'Inconsistent and over-zealous' - Government purdah rules attacked by scientific community

Government rules on what those in the scientific community can and cannot say during purdah are "very confusing" and are "undermining the scientific process", a leading comms professional has warned.

Election purdah rules are 'inconsistent and over-zealous'
Election purdah rules are 'inconsistent and over-zealous'

Bob Ward, policy and communications director for the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, at the London School of Economics, has criticised the current rules for what he calls an "inconsistent and over-zealous applications of purdah."

This comes after PRWeek revealed last week how some of Britain's best-known science organisations recently raised their concerns with Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet secretary and head of the Civil Service, over what scientists and researchers can and cannot say during purdah.

Bodies including the British Science Association and the Science Media Centre warned they could not "remember an election where purdah extended so far into the daily work of research-active scientists" and demanded a review into the matter take place after the election.

Sir Jeremy replied stating that researchers wishing to comment during the election should do so under their university affiliation rather than Research Councilsm but would not consider a more formal review.

But Mr Ward told PRWeek that academics should be "free to comment during elections." He said: "The current rules are very confusing. This 'muddling on' is undermining the scientific process and clarification is urgently needed.

He added: "The over-extension of purdah is undermining the value of the scientific process."

According to Mr Ward, university researchers have been "wrongly gagged during the election campaign because of inconsistent and over-zealous applications of 'purdah'".

He added that the next government should "undertake a review of the guidance on purdah and ensure that in future it does not harm the public interest and infringe on the academic freedom and independence of university researchers."

The concerns are echoed by Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, who wrote to Sir Jeremy last week. His letter warned: "There remains a sense that there are problems with how those restrictions [purdah] are being implemented and we want to lend our voice to those calling for greater clarity, both now and for future campaign periods."

The letter added: "If independent researchers live in fear of a backlash from funders or other parties for simply laying out the evidence on the issues of the day, we are doing a disservice to the public."

Read next: Top civil servant refutes purdah gagging claim in row with scientific community

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