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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Should government scientists be restricted in their public communications?

by Katie Gibbs

Three things to know about government scientists' communications:

1.  Government scientists’ ability to communicate with the public has become more restricted in recent years. There have been many examples where government scientists could not discuss their research with journalists, and a survey of government scientists showed that 90% do not feel they can speak freely about their research. 

2.  This report, the first assessment of media policies for government scientists in Canada, shows that policies do not promote open science communication, nor protect against political interference.

3.  Media policies for scientists in Canada are far more restrictive than our neighbours to the South: U.S. policies received an average grade of a 69% in 2008 and 75% in 2013, compared to the 2014 Canadian average of 55%.

Three myths about government scientists' communications::

Myth 1: Government communication policies are only important for scientists.

Reality: Open science communication is important for all Canadians. Current media policies could prevent taxpayer-funded scientists from sharing their expertise on important issues, ranging from drug policy to climate change. A healthy democracy requires open communication and informed public debate.

Myth 2: All federal scientists are subject to the same media policy.

Reality: While there is a government-wide communication policy, most departments have developed their own policies that differ greatly in how well they promote open science communication (ranging from B- to F).

Myth 3: Departments with the most complaints of government scientists being muzzled have the worst media policies.

Reality: Many examples of scientists who have been prevented from communicating their research have come from Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. These departments scored in the mid-range compared with other departments. The highest scoring department was, in fact, the department of National Defence.

Katie Gibbs is a biologist, community organizer and advocate for science and evidence-based policies. She’s the co-founder and Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, a national, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that promotes science integrity and the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Can Community Gardens and Farmers’ Market Relieve Food Desert Problems? A Study in Edmonton, Canada

By Haoluan Wang, Feng Qiu, and Brent Swallow

This research was published in the December 2014 edition of Applied Geography.

Three things you need to know about Food Desert and Fresh Food Assessment: 

  1. Food deserts are commonly defined as regions that lack access to healthy foods. Typically, a food desert is referred as a populated low-income area with limited access to full-service supermarkets.

  2. There were 58 registered community gardens and 14 approved farmers’ markets in the City of Edmonton by the year 2013.

  3. Eight food deserts are identified based on low accessibility and three based on high needs across the city, and community gardens can relieve food desert problems for inner-suburban neighborhoods.

Three myths about Food Desert and Fresh Food Assessment:

Myth #1: Food deserts are always in the suburban and peripheral areas.

The Reality: None of the food deserts we found is in peripheral regions. Most of the identified food desert neighborhoods are scattered in the inner city.

Myth #2: Community gardens and farmers markets can always relieve food desert problems as they add the fresh food supplies.

The Reality: Community gardens can only relieve food desert problems in inner-suburban neighborhoods, while for farmers’ markets, there seems to be no significant effect.

Myth #3: Food deserts are neighborhoods that have the longest distance to fresh food suppliers (e.g., supermarkets).  

The Reality: Not really. Food deserts are not only defined by the proximity to supermarkets, but also by demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

Haoluan Wang, is a Master student in Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. His research interests include food desert assessment, land use policy, and agricultural land conservation.

Feng Qiu, is an Assistant Professor in Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include agricultural policy, price and market analysis, risk and insurance modeling.

Brent Swallow, is a Professor and former Chair in Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. His research interests include watershed management, rural poverty and economic development market-based instruments for environmental management.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The #RoadTo2015: What can we expect from the next federal election?

by Jared Wesley

Three things to know about the 2015 Federal Election

1.  This is a fixed date election, set for October 19, 2015.  While the fixed date election law has been in place since 2007, if held on that date, this would mark the first time that an election has been held at the prescribed time.  In 2008 and 2011, amid minority governments, Parliament was dissolved in advance of the fixed date.  The law does not prohibit the calling of such “snap” elections before the fixed date.  Indeed, the dates established by the Act are not legally binding, and do not disrupt the power of the Prime Minister to call on the Governor General to drop the writs for a new election, nor the power of the Governor General to grant such a request.  There is much debate as to whether the Prime Minister could or should call an early election, but at this stage, all signs point to October 19, 2015.

2.  There are new seats and new riding boundaries.  Given population growth in certain parts of the country, a total of thirty (30) new seats will be added to the House of Commons following the next election.  The House will grow by just under 10 percent, reaching 338 Members of Parliament (MPs).  At the same time, riding boundaries have been redrawn to ensure that all Canadians are represented relatively equitably and appropriately.  All told, these changes will mean new competitive dynamics in several regions of the country, and introduce a host of new MPs to Parliament.

3.  There are several new national party leaders.  2015 will mark the first time New Democratic Party leader, Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, will lead their respective parties into a national campaign, as will Bloc Quebecois leader Mario Beaulieu.  This compares with Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who has led a national party in four previous campaigns (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011), and Elizabeth May, who has campaigned as leader of the Green Party in the previous two elections.

Three myths about the 2015 Federal Election

Myth #1:   The campaign is likely feature a “great debate” about the future of Canada

Reality:  Canadians have seldom experienced grand clashes over public policy in the lead up to their general elections.  The 1988 “Free Trade Election” was arguably the most recent campaign to pit parties against one another in a great debate over the future direction of the country.  Rather than engaging in a full-throated defence of their position on each and every issue (from health care to foreign affairs), Canadian parties fight campaigns by competing to elevate “their issues” to the top of the agenda. In other words, rather than featuring a great debate, campaigns are more a competition to define the ‘ballot question’.  Right-leaning parties seek to make the campaign all about tax relief and other issues that they “own” (i.e., those that voters trust them to handle more than any other parties), while left-leaning parties try to elevate topics like social programs to the top of voters’ minds.    Because Canadian voters are more or less in consensus on the major issues of the day (most favor tax relief and enhanced social programs, as illogical as that may appear), parties are unlikely to venture a minority opinion on issues that their opponents own.  Like ships passing in the night, these parties tend not to engage each other on the others’ ‘owned issues’, but rather try to de-emphasize the others’ agendas and promote their own.

Myth #2:  Citizens are likely to experience a pan-Canadian contest.  

Reality:  Different parties have varying rates of popularity across the country.  In recent elections, the Conservatives have performed well in Ontario and the West; the Liberals, in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic region; and the New Democrats, in Ontario and Quebec.  Accordingly, Canadian parties have devoted different levels of campaign resources to different regions of the country, and different ridings, depending on where they are most competitive.  This means that voters in southern Ontario may experience a close three-way race between the Conservatives, New Democrats, and Liberals, while those in parts of Montreal may experience a two-way contest between the NDP and Liberals.  Voters in so-called “safe seats” (in rural parts of the Prairies where the Conservatives dominate, for instance) may not see a competitive campaign at all.  To call the 2015 campaign a single election neglects the fact that each region, indeed each riding, features its own unique dynamics.

Myth #3:  Understanding Canadian politics and elections is too difficult for the average would-be voter.  

Reality:  To help break down some of the complexity, and bring the top issues to the forefront and in greater focus, IPAC Edmonton is hosting a free, online event on October 20, 2014 (12:00pm MT / 2:00pm ET). The live panel features insights from three leading experts on Canadian politics:  Susan Delacourt (Toronto Star), √Čric Grenier  (, and Peter Loewen (University of Toronto).  Tune in live on YouTube (, and Twitter (#RoadTo2015).  The event will be archived on YouTube for future viewing.

Jared Wesley earned his PhD in political science from the University of Calgary. He is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Alberta, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, and Pracademic Chair of the Institute for Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) (Edmonton Regional Group). Find him on LinkedIn, Twitter (@ipracademic), and Flipboard.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Complementary and Alternative Medicine: To Use or Not to Use?

By Sunita Vohra and Heather Boon

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is often defined as “health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine”. Examples include natural products (e.g. herbs, vitamins, probiotics) and practices (e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine, massage therapy, mindfulness meditation).   

Three things to know about CAM:

  1. CAM is commonly used used; 70% of Canadians use CAM (most often products, but also a variety of practices).

  2. CAM is not often discussed; most people use CAM without discussion with their health care provider.

  3. It is important to ask every patient at every visit about all the things they are doing to support their health - please give examples to help them understand what you mean (e.g. vitamins, herbs, supplements, changing their diet, seeing other providers). Good care requires open communication

Three myths to dispel about CAM:

Myth #1: There is no evidence about CAM.

The Reality: There are thousands of randomized controlled trials about CAM.

Myth #2: Everything natural is safe.

The Reality: Anything that can help may have capacity to harm. Caution is necessary before mixing natural health products with prescription medicines.

Myth #3: Health care providers don't need to know about CAM use; it is a waste of time and there are no resources to help respond to patient questions.

The Reality: Many patients report positive experiences, which is highly relevant to providing patient-centered care - patient values, preferences, and beliefs matter. There are excellent evidence-based resources available to help inform health care providers.

More information can be found at Health topics A-Z from the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and MedlinePlus: Herbs and Supplements

Sunita Vohra is a Centennial Professor at the University of Alberta, Dr. Sunita Vohra is a pediatrician and clinician scientist. Dr. Vohra is the founding director of Canada’s first academic pediatric integrative medicine program, the Complementary and Alternative Research and Education (CARE) program at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. In 2013, she was awarded the Dr. Rogers Prize for excellence in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and elected into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, one of the highest honours for individuals in the Canadian health sciences community.

Heather Boon is a Professor and the Dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto.  She is currently the Director of the Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research (IN-CAM) ( as well as the President of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research ( ).