Weeks into his presidency, Barack Obama pledged to end the blatant practice of the Bush administration rewriting scientific documents, on topics ranging from climate change to contraception, to suit its political agenda. President Obama directed all science-based agencies to adopt rules to prevent political alteration or suppression of science and to adopt safeguards protecting scientists from retaliation.
He put his White House Office of Science & Technology Policy in charge of ushering in these new rules. But OSTP dithered for months and ultimately produced “guidance” so mushy that it in essence let agencies do whatever they wanted.
The predictable result is a mish-mash of differing policies, some incomplete, others so vague as to be largely useless. Take the EPA, for example, which adopted its Scientific Integrity Policy back in February 2012. Today, however, there are –
- Still “no formal processes for receiving or resolving allegations” of policy violations, according to the program’s latest annual report. Yet without any procedures, EPA has resolved more than a score of complaints – largely by dismissing them, as others languish for months. To date, EPA has yet to substantiate a single instance of “loss of integrity”;
- Still no clearance procedures so EPA scientists know when they are allowed to publish scientific works or present posters at scientific conferences; and
- Still no media protocol spelling out when scientists may respond to press inquiries or interview requests or publicly discuss findings, despite numerous journalist complaints. Instead of clarifying access rules, EPA Public Affairs has added five new staff.
These missing elements are not mere details – they are the guts of the policy without which it is just an empty promise. At least EPA is not as bad as USDA which uses its Scientific Integrity Policy as a tool to gag scientists and forbid them “from making statements that could be construed as being judgments of or recommendations on USDA or any other federal government policy, either intentionally or inadvertently.”
Perhaps the worst is the Interior Department. After scientists’ complaints of fraud within the Fish & Wildlife Service were validated, Interior then gutted its policy to make such embarrassments far less likely. As a result, these new guarantees of scientific integrity are about as laughable as the Obama claim to operate “the most transparent administration in history.”
At PEER, we are concerned because these policies are often the only legal protection for the integrity of scientific work as well as those specialists who create them. So, we are –
- Providing free legal assistance to win legal protection for embattled scientistsworking on cutting edge issues;
Government agencies should not be allowed to fabricate their own set of facts and bury inconvenient truths. Help us wage and win this fight.