, , , ,

Karen AddisKaren Addis, APR, is senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm. You can contact her at kaddis@veandco.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @karenaddis or connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/karenaddis.

A recent editorial in The Sunday New York Times highlighted how the Canadian government is working to make it difficult for publicly financed scientists to communicate the results of their research. According to editorial writer Verlyn Klinkenborg, “the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information…”


Full disclosure, I do not know the specifics surrounding this issue, but I was amazed and bothered to read that this type of censorship could even possibly be taking place —and in Canada nonetheless!

My science and research colleagues are probably laughing at me right now. As a non-scientist, I fully admit this probably shows my naiveté as I am sure there are plenty of examples, including in our own country, where similar such actions are occurring.

Yet, as a professional communicator, I find this attempt to control information appalling. In my profession, we counsel our clients — scientists or not — that honesty and transparency are “non-negotiable.” Yes, you can suppress research findings, but eventually you will be exposed, especially in this day of social media where information spreads instantaneously.

No one likes to communicate bad news or failure, but science is about repeated failure with the goal that one day it will lead to success. If we demand that every science research project succeed or has the outcome we want, we are destined for zero progress.

We learn from failure, even though it’s painful and uncomfortable. Science should be no different. So it baffles me why anyone would consider restricting the flow of scientific information.

I recently interviewed a researcher at the University of Maryland with 20+ years of experience who shared with me that his original hypothesis for a project he was working on proved to be inaccurate. However, that “failure” led him and his team down another path, a path that could one day lead to a breakthrough treatment for advanced stage breast cancer.

When I think of famous examples of failure, Thomas Edison and the light bulb immediately come to mind. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Sounds a lot like science and scientific discovery. Is silencing scientists really what we want to do?