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Under the microscope: upholding scientific integrity

July 2020

"In terms of the government position on science: it is open science, it's transparent science, and it is sound science. I would go even further to say that what the Agency does is sound science and it is defensible science. So we, as an organization, are proud of the science we do, and we stand by the science we do, and we communicate that science."

Dr. Primal Silva, CFIA's Chief Science Operating Officer
Under the microscope: upholding scientific integrity – Audio transcript

You're tuned in to Chronicle 360 – the podcast that brings you closer to CFIA experts: exploring what we do and how we do it.

Host (Sarah Larose): The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is dedicated to safeguarding food, animal, plant health with science. Sound science performed with the highest integrity is behind the decisions made for each of these business lines. CFIA has hundreds of scientists working in labs, in the field, and at the head office in Ottawa.

Joining us today is Dr. Primal Silva, who is the Chief Science Operating Officer at the Agency. He is also the Science Integrity Lead, responsible for promoting high scientific and ethical standards to ensure the principles of scientific integrity are upheld throughout the Agency.

Welcome Dr. Silva, and thank you for joining us today to talk about science at CFIA.

Dr. Silva: Thank you, I'm very pleased to be here this morning.

Host: What is science integrity and why should it matter to Canadians and to scientists?

Dr. Silva: Well science integrity is actually something that matters to everyone. We are a science-based organization and everything we do is actually based on science and that matters to Canadians because, when we take action, when we do regulatory actions, Canadians have the confidence in the actions we take. So these actions ensure that the food we eat is safe, our animals and our plant resource base is protected and our trade is protected and all that actually comes back to science and the evidence base we use.

Host: Can you tell us more about your role?

Dr. Silva: In terms of my specific role, it is about ensuring that the science we do is conducted with the highest levels of integrity. Assuring that the science and the research that we generate are communicated to the public. The manner in which we do science and generate those results are meeting the highest standard, the ethical and the scientific standards in terms of the highest levels of peer review, so that people have confidence in the regulatory system.

And my role, specifically, is to make sure that we provide the right assurances, the guidelines to the scientists who conduct research and testing in the laboratories, and then communicating those results in a manner that can be understood by the public.

Host: In recent years, scientific integrity has often come under fire in an area of over information and fake news. How much do you think fake news is affecting the work of scientists, like those working at CFIA?

Dr. Silva: We, as an Agency, all we do in terms of our actions, the decisions we take, are based on science and based on evidence. And communicating those decisions out in the society is actually really important. Because what happens is, if there is a vacuum that is taken up by fake news, that actually undermines the confidence of the public, which is not a good thing for Canadians, which is not a good thing for the regulatory system.

So that is why the Agency's work that we do, which is based on the highest levels of standards, we comply with all national and international standards and that is the basis on which we actually take domestic decisions, and we trade with multiple countries and that story, in terms of being communicated to the public, is absolutely critical.

So fake news, we have a role in actually combatting with the right news so that people will have the confidence in what we do here in Canada.

Host: So that's a really good point, Canadians do have to have confidence in what we're doing. What would you say to Canadians who might have questions about CFIA's scientific information?

Dr. Silva: So we are very open. In terms of the, you know of the government position on science, it is open science, it's transparent science, and it is sound science. I would go even further to say that what the Agency does, it is sound science and it is defensible science. It can withstand the scrutiny of national and international scrutiny, in any of the decisions we take. So we, as an organization, are proud of the science we do, and we stand by the science we do, and we communicate that science.

Host: What do you think there is within the new scientific integrity policy that Canadians should know?

Dr. Silva: So this is actually a very important piece that came out from the government in terms of making a commitment about the scientific integrity, which is built on the pillars of transparency, it's protecting the rights of the scientists to do their work and actually speak about their work, and having access to the public in terms of the work.

It ensures that the work that is done with the highest levels of integrity, it adheres to the well-respected scientific principles and it also ensures that if there's anything that does not comply with the scientific integrity, in terms of a breach of scientific integrity, that we take appropriate action.

So in many ways, it actually is the culmination of years of thinking about how to ensure a higher standard, if you will, in terms of a commitment to science and the way we do science, and the people, the responsibilities of the people who do science.

Host: So as the Chief Science Operating Officer, you oversee 13 labs across Canada that are participating in all types of science research, testing, in anything from plant health, food safety, animal health. What are some of the things that are happening in the labs right now that benefit the everyday lives of Canadians?

Dr. Silva: We are currently working on Canada's preparedness for a really deadly swine disease called African Swine Fever (ASF), which has devastated the pig population in China, and it is in a number of different countries. So Canada doesn't have any of those types of diseases, and why we have been in that state is because we are continuously in a position of preparedness to deal with any of such diseases coming into Canada.

So in the ASF phase, we have been enhancing our preparedness in the laboratories, we can detect this very, very quickly. We have developed technology that can be taken to the field so that we can detect the presence of this disease in the live pigs. We can detect it in any of the meat samples, or anything like that. So in terms of our preparedness, our research, these have been really focused on enhancing Canada's preparedness to detect and respond to diseases like that. So the research is really very much mission oriented in CFIA and that actually has helped us to maintain that level of high standards and being free from many of those deadly diseases in Canada.

Host: I would like to thank you for joining us today and for sharing your insight and experience.

Dr. Silva: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

This has been a Chronicle 360 podcast. For more like this, visit inspection.gc.ca/Chronicle360.

[End of recording]

Under the microscope: upholding scientific integrity

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