Info For Congressional Staff

Resources and background on solutions to political interference in science

About UCS

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.

Overview

Across a wide range of issues—from childhood lead poisoning to global warming—science has been manipulated, distorted, and suppressed.

Impacts

Without access to independent scientific information, policy makers will be unable to make informed decisions that protect our health, safety, and environment.

Solutions

UCS is working to expose abuses of science and work to create reforms to prevent political interference.

  • Protection for Government Scientists — Federal government scientists play a crucial role in providing data and analyses to policy makers so they can make the best, most informed decisions about our environment, health, and national security. The public's interest thus depends on these scientists being able to carry out their scientific research without inappropriate political interference. What's more, agency scientists who speak out about distorted or suppressed scientific findings should not face retribution. Congress should pass legislation to protect the whistleblower rights of federal scientists and impose penalties, from official reprimands to dismissal, on those who misuse science.
  • Scientific Openness — Federal agencies should create scientific communication policies that respect the constitutional right of scientists to speak to the public, Congress, and the media. The policies should clearly support the free exchange of scientific information in all venues, as well as investigate and correct inappropriate policies, practices, and incidents that threaten scientific openness.
  • Transparency Policies —  Science-based decision making within agencies should be open and transparent. Transparency will help expose manipulation of science and make political appointees and agency managers think twice before altering or distoring scientific documents.
  • Independent Scientific Advice — Hundreds of scientific advisory committees advise almost every agency on matters from clean air to drug safety to national security. Yet, the independence of many of these committees has been compromised in many ways. For example, members are appointed even though they have clear political, financial, or ideological conflicts of interest. Congress should address this problem by ensuring full transparency in the selection and activities of such committees, while minimizing the selection of committee members with conflicts of interest. Congress should also provide sufficient funding so that agencies can find the best, most independent scientists and other experts for these committees. Finally, Congress should forbid the questioning of nominees to scientific advisory committees about their political affiliations or past political support.

Contact

Celia Wexler, Washington Representative
  cwexler@ucsusa.org, 202-331-6952

Resources

  • Scientific Integrity Resources for Federal Agencies: UCS has compiled a suite of downloadable resources to help federal agencies develop their scientific integrity policies in response to the December 2010 White House guidelines, including a survey of best practices, an analysis of the Department of Interior's first-out-of-the-gate SI policy, and a list of minimum requirements for an effective policy.
  • Driving the Fox from the Henhouse—This 2010 survey of FDA and USDA food safety employees reveals a system in which special interests and public officials all too often inhibit the ability of government scientists to protect our food supply. 
  • Abuses of Science: Case Studies—Dozens of examples of the misuse of science between 2001 and 2010 on issues like childhood lead poisoning, toxic mercury contamination, and endangered species. 
  • Federal Science and the Public Good: A 2008 UCS report recommends steps the next president can take to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking, highlighting recent systemic changes that make it more difficult for agencies to protect our health, safety, and environment. Prominent scientists have issued a call to action urging the next president and Congress to end political interference in science and establish conditions that would allow federal science to flourish. Nearly 15,000 scientists have called for reform since 2004.
  • Voices of Federal Scientists Series—A series of surveys from 2005-2010 designed to explore the level of political interference in science at federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and federal climate scientists.


 

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