There are fears in parts of the Australian scientific community that the Rudd Government is trying to prevent it from speaking out freely. This follows reports that the CSIRO and Australian Cooperative Research Centres have been told they must send any media releases to Canberra for approval. A government spokesman has defended the move, arguing it's not about controlling the message, but consistency. But according to science writer Niall Byrne, it's critical that the public gets unfiltered information.
NIALL BYRNE, SCIENCE WRITER: I think the danger is not just that they want to see them, that they want to change them. It is really important that scientists feel that they are able to provide free and frank information about the discoveries, about what the science says. Then it is the job of the community and of policy makers to decide what to do with that science. But if is science itself is filtered before it comes through to the public, that gets to be very dangerous.
LEE LIN CHIN: The Government is saying that all it wants to do is maintain some kind of consistency. What you think the Government believes - why do you think the Government believes it is necessary to vet these findings?
NIALL BYRNE: Well, at this stage, I hope that the Science Minister and the Prime Minister don't in fact think that they need to see what scientists are saying before the press releases go out. At the moment I'm hoping that it is just the Department over-reacting to a new situation, to a new government. Because it is critical, I think, that ministers know that they are getting the word of the scientists, that the information that they are getting on critical issues like climate change, like the impact of GMOs, on immunisation, that they know when they see the information from scientists that it is science and it's not being tainted by going through a policy process before the public and politicians see it.
LEE LIN CHIN: If this decision did indeed come from the Science Minister and the Prime Minister, how might this decision affect how scientific research is presented to the public?
NIALL BYRNE: Well, we can see what happens in one of the most extreme versions. The Bush Government has been quite crude in its attempts to filter scientific advice. NASA found itself with a public relations officer who had worked on the Bush-Cheney re-election, and that information officer not only attempted to censor some of NASA's top climate scientists, but he modified websites, or tried to modify websites, to introduce creation science and to suggest that the scientific theory of the Big Bang was in fact not credible. We really don't want to go in that direction, and for our ministers to start to approve press releases, talking about scientific discoveries, would be an unfortunate step on that slope.
LEE LIN CHIN: Thank you very much, Niall Byrne.
NIALL BYRNE: Thank you very much.