WASHINGTON (January 29, 2020)—A year from now, the winner of the 2020 presidential election will have taken the oath of office and kicked off a new term. And no matter who it is taking that oath, they’ll have a big challenge ahead to restore science to government decision-making.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) put together a roadmap to rebuild federal scientific capacity and put science to work for the public interest. In a new report, “Presidential Recommendations for 2020: A Blueprint for Defending Science and Protecting the Public,” UCS experts look at how science has been sidelined from policymaking and offer a broad array of recommendations to ensure that science fully informs environmental and public health decisions.
“Science is critical to our lives,” said Jacob Carter, a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS. “We can’t make good decisions without access to independent science. Without a commitment to science, it’s impossible for the federal government to prepare for and respond to threats like pollution, severe weather, contaminated food, and climate change.”
While all presidential administrations may have abused or manipulated science for political ends, these abuses have risen to a new level at the hands of the Trump administration. UCS researchers have documented more than 120 incidents in which the administration has undermined, sidelined, or manipulated science, and almost half of scientific leadership positions have been left vacant.
“We need stronger rules to protect science and make sure the public can benefit from it,” said Carter. “Whoever serves in the White House in 2021 should be held to a high standard, because when politics interfere in science-based decisions, everyone’s health and safety is put at risk.”
The UCS report identifies a number of key areas in need of reform and offers specific, concrete policy changes to improve how decisionmakers use science. The president should set guidelines for federal agencies that put independent science at the center of policymaking and support the passage of legislation that protects science and the democratic process. Federal scientists should be free to follow their research wherever it leads and speak with the public, the press, and Congress about their findings. Agency leaders should make scientific integrity a priority and prevent political manipulation, conflicts of interest, and censorship of scientific data. And federal agencies and the White House should communicate clearly and honestly with the public, foster better public participation in the policy process, and protect democratic processes so government reflects the needs of the people it serves.
“It’s clear that we need stronger rules in place to prevent any president from abusing science and putting the public at risk,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Federal agencies exist to carry out laws in service of the public interest, not the president’s political interests. These recommendations and reforms would help ensure that federal scientists can do their job, and the people they work for can trust the decisions their government makes.”