The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

US Fish & Wildlife Scientists Gain Right to Publish

Elimination of 'Policy Review' for Technical Articles to Reduce Political Interference


The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will now allow its scientists
to publish without management approval, a major step toward protecting
scientific integrity from political manipulation, according to
documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). During the Bush administration, political
re-writes of Fish & Wildlife Service scientific studies on
endangered species became fodder for scandal, congressional hearings
and lawsuits - with some of that litigation still ongoing.

In an August 19, 2009 announcement to agency scientists, the following changes were highlighted:

  • Articles and papers by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    scientists will no longer have to undergo "policy review" by agency
    management prior to being submitted for publication either inside or
    outside the Service. The announcement states that the reason for the
    change is "to get our employees out from underneath an ill-defined,
    cumbersome, and potentially stifling process of 'policy review;'"
  • Studies
    not officially endorsed by the Service must bear a simple one-sentence
    disclaimer that their contents "do not necessarily represent the views
    of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service"; and
  • The Fish &
    Wildlife Service itself is starting two peer-reviewed journals as
    outlets for publishing scientific and technical articles relating to
    agency decisions.

"This is a sea change in the scientific freedom given to service
professionals," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose
organization has highlighted past abuses in political alteration or
suppression of agency science. "Now the question is why the right to
publish should not be extended to all federal scientists."

While applauding agency efforts aimed at "encouraging and empowering
employees to publish and to do so using their official agency and
office affiliation," PEER notes that there are gray areas of danger for

  • It is not clear whether previous Fish & Wildlife Service
    directives barring disclosure of "draft" documents have been rescinded,
    meaning that scientists could be punished for prematurely submitting
  • Conflict of interest strictures restraining
    interaction between agency scientists and professional societies or
    conservation groups remain in place; and
  • Most significantly,
    scientific disclosures do not enjoy any legal protection against agency
    retaliation and so scientists who publish articles not favorably
    received could find their careers derailed.

Many of these issues, including whistleblower protection, are
supposed to be addressed in a government-wide initiative launched by
President Obama back in March. Although the President's order set a
July 9 deadline for promulgating new scientific integrity policies,
nothing has been produced nearly three months later.

"We are hearing on a daily basis from agency scientists in agencies
such as NOAA that nothing has changed except their management has
become even more secretive," Ruch added, pointing out that the vast
majority of managers who interfered with scientists and retaliated
against perceived dissidents remain in place. "Thousands of government
scientists are still waiting for the rhetoric about transparency and
integrity to become reality."

Read the FWS policy on publishing

See the announcement of two new FWS-sponsored peer review journals

Look at prohibition against sharing draft documents

Examine the stalled White House scientific integrity effort

Compare NOAA policy or prior review before publication or speeches

Revisit science scandals at FWS under Bush

Review PEER concerns about the scientific integrity record of the new FWS Director

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.