Reforming Agency Media Policies
Numerous reports, investigations, and surveys have uncovered broad interference in government scientist's ability to communicate about their scientific research. To further assess the degree of freedom with which science is communicated at federal agencies, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) conducted an investigation of 15 federal regulatory and science agencies in 2008. The result of this extensive research is that UCS has found officials at federal agencies are taking a highly active role in regulating communications between agency scientists and the media—in effect serving as gatekeepers for scientific information.
Why it Matters
Open communication among scientists is one of the pillars of the scientific method. For society to fully reap the benefits of scientific advances, information must also flow freely among scientists, policy makers, and the general public. However, this flow is being impeded by inappropriate political interference. The consequence of this interference is that government policy makers base their decisions on incomplete—or in some cases, inaccurate—scientific information, and a broader public understanding of important scientific issues is thwarted.
UCS and the Government Accountability Project have created a model media policy which will ensure that tax-payer funded scientific research is open and accessible to Congress, the media, and the public. The media policy:
- Clearly defines the role, purpose, and responsibilities of public affairs officials to facilitate and promote media attention on important scientific and institutional developments.
- Ensures that scientists and other staff have the fundamental right to express their personal views, provided they specify that they are not speaking on behalf of, or as a representative of, the agency but rather in their private capacity.
- Ensures employees have the right to review, approve, and comment publicly on the final version of any proposed publication that significantly relies on their research, identifies them as an author or contributor, or purports to represent their scientific opinion.
- Creates an internal disclosure system to allow for the confidential reporting and meaningful resolution of inappropriate alterations, conduct, or conflicts of interest that arise with regard to media communications.
- Includes provisions to actively train staff and post employee rights to scientific freedom in all workplaces and public areas.
- Gives scientists the right to publish their research in peer-reviewed scientific literature.