Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scientific integrity and facts

Dear Alan:
It is often said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own set of facts. That is not the case in government where there is a rich history of political appointees ordering up their own facts by manipulating the documentary record and deep-sixing discordant facts.

This right was reinforced by the Roberts Supreme Court which ruled in 2006 – Justice Samuel Alito’s first swing vote – that government employees have no (as in zero) First Amendment free speech rights when acting within their scope of duty because, the court reasoned, the government owns their speech. 
Like a volcanic island rising from the seabed, a new body of science law is fitfully evolving.  PEER has played a pioneering role in helping adopt and apply new scientific integrity rulesprohibiting political manipulation of technical works and declaring transparency in scientific matters for all federal employees, contractors and grantees.  These new rules vary from agency to agency, are uneven, incomplete and poorly enforced – but it is a start.
The stakes could not be higher.
From global climate change to nanotechnology, the economic and political implications of environmental research have never been greater.  For that reason, so too are the pressures to quash off-message findings and those who create them. 
By conferring legal status on scientific work-products and those who create them we can reform the way decisions in public service are made. By arming scientists and technical specialists with the ability to indelibly embed inconvenient facts in the record, we force political appointees to confront what they would prefer buried. 
PEER is founded on the notion that the key agents of reform are those within who intimately know whether change is real or merely rhetorical.  Please help us do this work.
Jeff Ruch
Executive DirectorP.S. Watch the NBC Nightly News report on the dangers of synthetic turf and tire crumb featuring University of Washington goalie coach Amy Griffin, who came to PEER to ask for our help in elevating the profile of this story and inducing agencies to begin doing meaningful risk assessments of a product they formerly claimed was safe.
P.P.S.  Meanwhile, in Malibu, the schools have finally promised to remove any toxic PCB contamination above federal limits – the catch is that they refuse to look for it.
P.P.P.S. Across the country at Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore, the Park Service once again shows that it stirs to action only when exposed as corrupt.
The two-year-old investigative report PEER unearthed quotes the park superintendent blaming all Canaveral’s problems, including her $800/month work cell phone bills, on a “small group of White Caucasians” who have the misfortune to work under her.

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