The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

White House Grapples With How To Ensure Scientific Integrity

New Whistleblower Protections and Other Rules Slated for President's Desk by July


The Obama administration is taking its first step toward its stated
aim of outlawing political manipulation of federal science, according
to public comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). The White House Office of Science and Technology
Policy (OSTP) is asking for ideas on how to implement a presidential
directive to protect scientific integrity.

Under the Bush administration, cases of political alteration of
scientific documents on topics ranging from global warming to grazing
became notorious, resulting in a parade of adverse court rulings,
embarrassing reports and media exposes. In the 2008 election,
presidential candidates from both parties decried the practice of
political appointees skewing scientific findings to suit pre-determined

On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Memorandum to
all federal departments and agencies declaring his intent to adopt
policies that protect scientific integrity. That order directs his OSTP
to develop proposed policies for Presidential action by July 9, 2009.
On April 23rd, OSTP issued a notice in the Federal Register calling for
public comments on how to best implement this goal. The deadline for
public comments is tomorrow, Wednesday, May 13th.

In public comments filed today, PEER underscores that there are
currently no rules forbidding alteration of scientific conclusions for
non-scientific reasons: "The main reason the Bush administration was
able to politically manipulate science was that there is no rule
against it." PEER recommends that the Obama Administration adopt
government-wide rules forbidding political interference with science,
including -

  • New transparency rules allowing scientists and other
    specialists to freely speak and write, as well as to communicate
    directly with Congress and the media. In addition, professional
    scientific societies should be able to work with scientists and
    agencies on studies within their disciplines;
  • Disciplinary
    action against government managers, especially political appointees,
    who twist or suppress scientific findings. PEER urges the Obama
    administration to hold officials to account when they sign off on
    decisions found by courts to violate legal standards of scientific
    accuracy or sufficiency, as under many environmental statutes, such as
    the Endangered Species Act; and
  • Whistleblower protection
    for scientists and technical specialists who today largely lack any
    legal shield against on-the-job retaliation for reporting politically
    inconvenient facts.

"To stop political manipulation of science, particularly on
high-profile issues, scientific integrity rules must have teeth in the
form of enforceability," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
"Another key measure of the effectiveness of new rules will be the
willingness of the Obama administration to hold its own appointees

Congress is now considering legislation to extend whistleblower
protection, for the first time, to scientists. PEER is urging Congress
to enact a broader package of scientific integrity rules so that the
safeguards will continue beyond the current administration.


Read the PEER comments

View the Obama Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity

Look at the range of scientific integrity issues facing federal environmental agencies

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.