WASHINGTON (April 28, 2021)—In his 2020 campaign for the presidency, Joe Biden pledged to “listen to the scientists” and undo the damage the previous administration inflicted on the federal government’s scientific capacity and science-based policies. As the administration completes its first 100 days, experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have been tracking new science-focused initiatives and proposals. While there’s still a long way to go, the new administration has made great strides in ensuring that the federal government uses the best available science to protect the public.
Today, the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS released a scorecard tracking the administration’s progress on science, including building scientific integrity, protecting the staffing of science agencies and advisory boards, reducing conflicts of interest, ensuring avenues for public participation, and centering environmental justice and underserved communities.
“It’s been just over three months, and the amount of progress we’ve seen is really encouraging,” said UCS researcher Taryn MacKinney. “The administration has made some concrete commitments, and if they follow through, that’s going to mean better science advice, better communication with the public, and better policy.”
This progress is welcome since the state of science at the federal level has been dire. During the Trump administration, researchers at the Center tallied nearly 200 attacks on science, including censorship, political interference, and anti-science rulemaking. These abuses of science became a pattern across the administration, with attacks launched against climate science, pesticide research, air-pollution studies, and more. The last administration’s record on science had its grimmest results last year when censorship and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic undermined efforts to protect the public from the deadly disease.
In 2020, the Center released a set of recommendations to advance science in the next administration. These recommendations aimed to increase scientific integrity, protect environmental justice, ensure public participation in government, and set new standards for the use of science in policymaking. These areas are the focus of the new UCS scorecard, and many of these recommendations have been among the first actions taken by the new administration—including:
- Making the White House science advisor a cabinet-level position
- Issuing a detailed and robust presidential directive on scientific integrity
- Rescinding efforts to restrict what science the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior can use
- Establishing an Environmental Justice Interagency Council, as well as a White House advisory council of environmental justice leaders
- Resetting key advisory committees and directing agencies to increase diversity on committees
- Implementing better rules for public access to data
The news isn’t all good—the White House has announced it will not release visitor logs for virtual events, depriving the public of important information about who is meeting with top officials. In addition, some of the administration’s actions around conflicts of interest and scientific integrity are vague or fall short of what’s needed. But the direction is clear—the new administration is acting quickly to defend and advance science and put it to work on behalf of the public.
The work of the new administration isn’t done, and that means the work of science supporters must continue.
“The progress that we’ve seen is encouraging, but it didn’t happen by accident,” said Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy. “It took pressure from the scientific community, from grassroots environmental groups, and from voters across the country to secure these promises. We have to keep that momentum going and keep scrutinizing the administration to make sure it’s living by the principles the president laid out.”