Science Integrity Policy guidelines: Communication and Dissemination of Research and Scientific Information
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1. Effective date
These guidelines take effect on March 11, 2020. This is an evergreen document.
These guidelines are issued pursuant to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Science Integrity Policy (subsequently referred to as the AAFC SIP), adopted on January 1, 2019. These guidelines are to be read in conjunction with the following AAFC guidelines:
Federal research is an asset of the Crown and should be treated as such. Appropriate data management practices should be applied to preserve and communicate the results.
These guidelines are intended to assist AAFC employees at all levels in implementing the public communication of research and scientific information (s. 7.4) and dissemination of research and scientific findings (s. 7.5) provisions of the AAFC SIP.
In particular, they are intended to assist employees in making fair, reasonable, transparent, and accountable decisions regarding communication and dissemination of research and scientific information that respect the Values and Ethics Code for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Directive on the Management of Communications, and the AAFC Policy on Science and Technology Publications. These guidelines are also intended to assist employees in recognizing and upholding:
- the right to freedom of expression by researchers and scientists on matters of research or science;
- the important role of researchers and scientists in communicating research and scientific information among themselves, to decision makers and to the public; and
- existing agreements with respect to legal or regulatory constraints on, and/or the need for caution and prudence with, the disclosure of confidential or sensitive scientific or research information.
4. Communication of research and scientific information
4.1 Non-technical information
Non-technical information consists of research or scientific content designed for a lay audience, irrespective of the medium (audio, video, in print or on-line, including social media). The purpose of any such communication (hereafter public communications) is to make the audience aware of, or better informed about, the research or scientific dimensions of issues of public interest or import. Often the target audience will have a limited ability to critically evaluate the research or scientific merits of the information.
Public communication of non–technical research or scientific information may include, but is not restricted to:
- responses to public inquiries
- public lectures, presentations or seminars (e.g. presentations to producer groups)
- public panels and panel discussions
- media briefings and interviews
- opinion pieces, either in-print or on-line
- contributions (including blog posts) to departmental, agency, professional, society, media, non-governmental organization or business newsletters or websites
- social media posts
Public communication of non-technical information is addressed in s. 7.4 (Public communication of research and scientific information) of the AAFC SIP.
4.2 Technical information
Technical communications consist of the dissemination of research or scientific content designed for a knowledgeable audience, irrespective of the medium (audio, video, in print or on-line, including social media). The purpose of any such communication is to convey research or scientific information to audiences that are usually in a position to judge—at least to some degree—the research or scientific merits of the information. For the purposes of this guideline, there are three types of technical information or communication.
4.2.1 Peer-reviewed publications
Publication of peer-reviewed science and technology information in bona fide scientific journals, books and peer-reviewed conference proceedings fall under the AAFC Policy on Science and Technology Publications and is not covered in these guidelines.
4.2.2 Other technical communication
Other technical publications may include non-peer reviewed publications or communications that summarize research or scientific work and associated analyses, interpretations and/or recommendations and may pertain directly to federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters.
Dissemination of non-peer-reviewed technical information is addressed in s. 7.5 (Dissemination of research and scientific findings) of the AAFC SIP.
A dataset is any organized collection of data in a computational format, defined by a theme or category that reflects what is being measured/observed/monitored. The presentation of the data in the application is enabled through metadata.Endnote 1
Researchers and scientists should ensure that both public communications and dissemination of non-peer-reviewed technical information:
- are non-partisan and non-political
- clearly distinguish between factual claims and opinions
- strive to present and characterize the uncertainties, potential biases and knowledge gaps associated with research or scientific evidence
- include alternate explanations for research or scientific results
- indicate if the researcher or scientist is acting as a designated AAFC spokespersonEndnote 2
In all communication and dissemination activities, researchers and scientists must respect:
- all relevant laws, regulations, policies or agreements (whether contractual or otherwise) pertaining to the disclosure of private, classified or sensitive information and, in cases where disclosure of such information is warranted and appropriate, ensure that approval to do so has been obtained
- the rights of indigenous peoples with respect to the communication or public disclosure of indigenous knowledge
- the Directive on the Management of Communications s. 6.33 (Subject-matter experts)
Furthermore, researchers and scientists should:
- notify managers, supervisors and any other relevant personnel of any public communications according to the conditions and timelines provided in the Definitions section of this document
- seek advice/direction from management and/or AAFC’s Public Affairs Branch when in doubt about elements of public communications of science and technology information
- ensure that their data is managed, annotated and curated according to the current metadata standardsEndnote 3
In the management of research and science, AAFC should:
- promote and encourage researchers and scientists to communicate science and their research with their peers, broader scientific communities, and the broader public
- minimize administrative burdens on researchers and scientists to ensure timely dissemination of research and scientific information
- ensure that research and scientific information is accurately represented and communicated to decision makers in an impartial and unbiased fashion
- ensure that datasets are not shared without permission by the scientist or researcher
- ensure that research and scientific communications are free of political, commercial, client or stakeholder interference in order to preserve both professional credibility of the researcher or scientist and the public credibility of and trust in federal government research and science
- ensure that researchers and scientists are aware of and understand potential resource constraints on the public communication of research and scientific information, such as the resources required to make the information publicly available
- ensure that researchers and scientists are aware of, have access to, and have regard for, relevant open science/open data policies
4.4 Review by researchers and scientists of AAFC public communications
AAFC researchers or scientists must be given a reasonable opportunity to review drafts of AAFC public communications that describe or reference their work in order to ensure that their work is accurately described and interpreted. They should discuss with their supervisor, manager, or whoever is responsible for drafting the communication, any revisions to the content. In cases where an agreement is not reached, the researcher(s) or scientist(s) should immediately, in writing, notify their manager(s), supervisor(s) or other relevant personnel of:
- the revisions required such that their work is accurately described and interpreted;
- whether they wish to be formally acknowledged in the communication; and
- whether formal acknowledgement is conditional on the required revisions, modifications or changes being made.
4.5 Communication of non-scientific matters
Comments or recommendations on, or discussions about, federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters made in research or scientific publications or public communications may result in contravening either the Values and Ethics Code for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or the Directive on the Management of Communications.
A comment or recommendation on, or discussion about, federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters in a public or non-peer-reviewed technical communication is a statement by researchers or scientists that:
- directly or indirectly concerns areas or subjects of federal jurisdiction, authority or responsibility; and
- may be perceived as being criticalEndnote 4 of existing or contemplated federal government initiatives or undertakings, including but not limited to laws, regulations, policies and political decisions; or
- may be perceived by elected officials, stakeholders or the general public as indicating a lack of impartiality or political partisanship.
Examples of such statements may be found in Appendix A.
4.6 Duty of Loyalty
A particularly important issue is whether communications include statements that violate public servants’ Duty of Loyalty, which requires that public servants exercise restraint in being critical of government decisions so as to ensure that the public service is perceived as impartial, nonpartisan and effective. However, the Duty of Loyalty is not absolute and must be balanced against other considerations, including AAFC employee’s freedom of expression. Moreover, the federal government has made a commitment to open scienceEndnote 5 and, in so doing, supports the importance of researchers and scientists being able to publicly communicate their research results.
Public trust in government depends in part upon the concrete demonstration of its willingness to acknowledge, consider and respond constructively to research or scientific evidence, especially that which might be perceived as inconsistent with legislative, regulatory or policy undertakings. As such, the failure to entertain criticism, and to respond constructively to it, may well undermine precisely that which the Duty of Loyalty is designed to achieve, viz, to support the public’s perception of an impartial and non-partisan federal public service.
In evaluating the risk of a statement contravening the Duty of Loyalty, AAFC employees should consider the factors shown in Table 2 below.
|Factor||Description||Risk of contravening Duty of Loyalty|
|Statement truth||The extent to which the evidence supports the factual claims in the statement||Decreases with increasing strength of evidence|
|Efforts made to establish statement truth||The extent of the effort made to establish the truth of the factual claims in the statement||Decreases with increasing effort|
|Efforts in internal resolution||The effort made to address or resolve the criticism(s) through internal consultation, discussion or mediation||Decreases with increasing effort|
|Position and visibility of the employee||The extent to which the employee making the statement(s) is in a position of authority or is a recognized public presence||Increases with increasing authority and extent of public visibility|
|Imputation of motives||The extent to which the statement explicitly or implicitly imputes motives to federal government institutions or employees||Increases with motive imputation, especially the imputation of ulterior motives|
|Compromising perceived impartiality||The extent to which the statement is perceived as indicating a lack of impartiality||Increases with increasing risk of perception of impartiality|
|Adapted from Duty of Loyalty.|
4.7 Use of research and scientific information in federal government decision making
In all communications, researchers and scientists should recognize and appreciate that:
- Federal statutory, regulatory or policy decisions are informed by research or scientific evidence, not dictated by it. There may be perfectly valid and legitimate reasons for making decisions for which the research or scientific evidence base is weak.
- Decision making based on weight of evidence demands that all relevant evidence—including both positive and negative evidence—be gathered, evaluated and weighed. For many issues, conflicting evidence is the rule rather than the exception.
- The accumulation of knowledge, and the progress of science, depends upon the open communication of not just research and scientific results among researchers, scientists and the public, but also the communication of the potential implications of the results to issues of public concern, many of which fall under federal authority or jurisdiction. Indeed, it is often through communication of these implications, rather than the research or scientific results themselves, that issues are first brought to the attention of governments and the public.
- Research or scientific evidence that identifies a problem or a potential solution to an existing problem imposes no obligation or responsibility on governments to address the problem nor adopt the solution.
4.8 Other research or science conducted by AAFC employees
AAFC researchers and scientists may undertake research or scientific study apart from that conducted as part of their employment responsibilities—for example, studies conducted out of personal interest or in the context of the employee’s affiliation with an external institution. In such situations, the provisions of the AAFC SIP s. 7.4 or s. 7.5 will normally apply when the research or science is conducted:
- as part of AAFC employment duties (e.g. assigned projects); or
- on federal government premises or using federal government equipment or infrastructure; or
- using funds provided or administered by federal government institutions other than those responsible for extramural funding.
If the research or science is not subject to s. 7.4 or 7.5 of the AAFC SIP, then researchers and scientists may still use their AAFC affiliations as part of their biographical information in any research or scientific publication or public communication provided they state explicitly that:
- the work was not undertaken under the auspices of AAFC as part of their employment responsibilities;
- the work was conducted under the auspices of the researcher or scientist’s affiliation with an external institution, where warranted and applicable; and
- any views expressed therein are their personal opinions and not those of AAFC.
Researchers or scientists should ensure that their managers, supervisors and other relevant personnel are informed about these activities even in cases where the activities are not subject to s. 7.4 or 7.5 of the AAFC SIP. Outside employment or activities that are likely to give rise to a real, apparent or potential conflict of interest situation must be disclosed, in adherence to the Values and Ethics Code for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
In implementing the communication and dissemination provisions of the AAFC SIP, employees are encouraged to adopt and use the descriptions and interpretations in Table 3.
|AAFC SIP phrase||AAFC SIP article||Description and interpretation|
|Science and research||7.4.3||
Science: the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural world through application of one or more elements of the scientific method. In the context of the AAFC SIP, it is understood to include both fundamental and applied natural, physical, biomedical and social science, as well as engineering and mathematicsEndnote 6.
Research: any undertaking intended to extend knowledge through a disciplined inquiry or systematic investigationEndnote 7.
For the purposes of the SIP:
In implementing the AAFC SIP, employees should be careful to distinguish between information sources and the type of information obtained from the source(s) in question. Research or scientific information can be generated and provided by persons who are not professional researchers or scientists, for example, persons engaged in citizen science programs, amateur naturalists, or indigenous knowledge holders.
|Classified or sensitive research or scientific information||7.4.4||
Researchers or scientists should notify their manager/supervisor about a planned formal public communication event with a “sufficiently long lead time” (e.g. public talks or lectures) as soon as practical after the date on which they agree to participate in the event or, if not possible, then as soon as practical after the event.
Researchers or scientists should notify their manager/supervisor and Public Affairs Branch about formal public communication events with a “short lead time” that effectively preclude prior notification (e.g. media calls or interviews) as soon as practical after the event
|Reasonable opportunity to review||7.4.9||A reasonable opportunity for AAFC researchers or scientists to review drafts of AAFC public communications that describe or reference their work shall be considered to be as soon as practical prior to the release of the communication.|
|Researchers and scientists should send an email to their supervisor/manager with the date and time of the event; their role in the event; the title of their presentation, if relevant; and a copy of their speaking notes, speech or presentation if available.|
This appendix provides some hypothetical statements that would be considered to be comments on or discussions about federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters, and as such may contravene one or more policies. In these examples, “Y” denotes some federal government institution, person or elected official, “X” some undertaking or decision by a federal institution, person or elected official. The set of examples is meant to be illustrative, not comprehensive.
- “On the basis of our results, we recommend that Y consider promulgating a regulation to …”
- “Our results suggest that in recommending X, Y has failed significantly to consider the potential effects on…”
- “Our results indicate that, contrary to the statement by Y, there is compelling scientific evidence that…”
- “Our results indicate that the recent decision by Y to do X will have a much-needed positive impact on…”
- “Our results suggest that in focusing on X, Y might well have been distracted from the substantially more important issue Z…”
- “Our results call into question the validity of the recent decision by Y to do X…”
- “Our results strongly support the recent decision of Y to do X.”
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