Spring 2011

Perspective: Science Is Back on the Agenda | Catalyst Spring 2011

Perspective

Science Is Back on the Agenda

The end of 2010 brought an important, but little publicized, achievement: scientific integrity guidelines from the White House. These guidelines—one of the most significant fruits of nearly seven years of hard work by UCS—go a long way toward ensuring government policy decisions are fully informed by the best available science.

In 2004, UCS joined with a small group of leading U.S. scientists to speak out against the abuse of science by industry and government officials. This interference was preventing government scientists from doing their jobs, leading to misguided policy decisions on issues ranging from drug and food safety to childhood lead poisoning and climate change. These flawed and often corrupt practices regularly put the public’s health and safety at risk.

Over the years, thousands joined our efforts to document the extent of the problem and fight back against some of the worst abuses. We brought scientific integrity to the attention of presidential candidates and helped inspire then-candidate Obama to put the issue at the top of his science agenda. Post-election, we advised his transition team and agency leaders to make commitments to transparency, accountability, and protections for government scientists. And we have pushed the administration to follow through on its commitments.

Public participation and oversight are important as well. Such oversight played a vital role in improving scientific integrity at the Department of the Interior (DOI), where political interference in science has been a problem in recent years. When the DOI released a draft policy that failed to address the conditions that led to the censorship and manipulation of employees’ scientific work, UCS organized thousands of supporters to submit public comments to the agency calling for substantive changes to the policy. Nine days after the comment period ended, the DOI did an about-face and published a much-improved final plan. We are now working to ensure the plan is fully implemented.

The White House’s scientific integrity guidelines come at a critical time, in the wake of an election that swept a new wave of climate science deniers into Congress. When fully implemented, the new guidelines will make federal agencies more transparent, disclosing more information about the science behind policy decisions and disarming those who want to confuse the public. Ultimately, a thriving federal scientific enterprise makes it easier for all of us to hold government officials and politicians accountable for the decisions they make about our health and environment.