The RSS has added its name to a Science Media Centre letter expressing concern regarding the rules of ‘purdah’ (the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions are placed on civil servants) and how they apply to scientists.
The letter, to the UK’s cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, gave examples including one where university researchers felt ‘unable to provide comment to journalists on the government’s draft UK air quality plan because of instruction from government that their membership of an independent Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) on air pollution made them subject to purdah’. The letter adds: ‘We cannot remember an election where purdah extended so far into the daily work of research-active scientists’.
The letter asked for clarification that ‘purdah does not apply to scientists employed by universities’.
Sir Jeremy responded (PDF) saying that while it is not appropriate for staff members of non-departmental public bodies (NDPB’s) such as the UK research councils to publicly comment on politically controversial matters, the principles ‘are not, and have never been about restricting commentary from independent academics’. He also pointed out that ‘Research Council-funded researchers wishing to comment during the election period should do so under their university affiliation rather than the Research Councils’.