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March 9, 2010
5:43 PM

CONTACT: Union of Concerned Scientists

Elliott Negin
Media Director

Obama Administration a Year Behind on Scientific Integrity Plan

WASHINGTON - March 9 - On March 9, 2009, President Obama announced his administration would restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking and gave his science adviser, John Holdren, 120 days to come up with a plan. A year later, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is still silent on the issue.

"When Barack Obama was a presidential candidate, he said stopping political interference in science was a top priority," said Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Scientific Integrity Program, which blew the whistle on widespread censorship and distortion of science during the Bush administration. "While the new administration has been generally supportive of scientific integrity values, it's moving too slowly to establish badly needed reforms.

"The current system still discourages scientists from communicating about their research results, for example," she said. "It still keeps the public in the dark about the scientific basis for policy decisions, and it still rewards staffers who keep quiet about political interference in science." She noted that just last week a Food and Drug Administration veterinarian testified before Congress that the agency retaliated against him in 2007 and 2008 for reporting serious problems at two major meat-packing plants. "The administration has changed, but the system that allows retaliation against whistleblowers has not."

As proof that agencies can improve openness and accountability, two hallmarks of scientific integrity reform, Grifo pointed to several executive branch actions. NASA, for example, established a new media policy that allows scientists to speak more freely with the press. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened its process for evaluating toxic chemicals to wider scrutiny. And the White House is now publishing its visitor logs. (For more about the administration's progress, see The Road to Independent Science: A Progress Report on Scientific Integrity.)  

"Some agencies are moving ahead," Grifo said, "but the administration must provide specific guidelines for all agencies to meet President Obama's pledge to stamp out political interference in science."

A report released last week by George Washington University found that scientists face difficulties in disseminating their work, are not always able to speak freely with the public and press, and are blocked from sharing data with colleagues at other agencies. The report documents that federal scientists have seen little systemic change since the Obama administration took office.

UCS, working with government scientists and other policy experts, developed a comprehensive set of scientific integrity reforms, outlined in the 2008 report "Federal Science and the Public Good" and summarized in comments submitted to OSTP last May.  

"An accountable government and good policy decisions depend on access to robust and reliable scientific analysis," said Grifo. "Without restoring scientific integrity to federal policymaking, public health and safety are at risk."

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

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