Science Group Urges Passage of Scientific Integrity Act

Statement by Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Feb 3, 2021

WASHINGTON (February 3, 2021)—Rep. Paul Tonko has introduced the Scientific Integrity Act of 2021. This bill would protect federal science from political interference and enable scientists to speak openly with the public about their work. It’s an important step to ensure the public can benefit from the science done on their behalf, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“The public relies on scientific work done at the federal government level in so many ways—from medical research and weather forecasting to policies that keep our air and water clean and our food and consumer products safe. And now, as we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic and face a growing climate crisis, it’s never been clearer that we need trustworthy scientific information from the federal government.

“The Scientific Integrity Act would protect federal science from political interference and make sure that the public can hear directly from scientists about the work they do. It will help us make sure that the decisions made by our leaders will be based on the best available evidence—not the whims of ideologues or powerful lobby groups. The past year has vividly illustrated the tragic consequences of disinformation, distrust and a government that willfully ignores science. We deserve better, and the Scientific integrity Act will help us get there.”

“The new administration has taken important steps to advance scientific integrity at federal agencies, but now it’s time to pass these protections into law, so that we can count on getting the best scientific information from this and future administrations. Congress must pass the Scientific Integrity Act and President Biden must sign it into law.”

Quotes from Supporting Organizations:

“On behalf of AGU's global community of 130,000 Earth and space science experts and enthusiasts, we are excited to see the introduction of this important legislation. Additionally, we commend President Biden's action last week in signing the memo on scientific integrity. We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to continue enacting sound scientific integrity polices. The need for such policies and safeguards has never been greater as we face many challenges that require the free and accurate sharing of science without political interference.” - Lexi Schultz, Vice President of Public Affairs, American Geophysical Union

“The COVID-19 pandemic makes plain how essential objective government research and data are to a healthy society. The Scientific Integrity Act would help bolster evidenced-based policymaking by taking important steps to shore up guardrails that have historically protected government science from politicization. The Brennan Center for Justice and its National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy — a group of former government officials that includes both Republicans and Democrats — strongly support the bill and urge its passage. Many provisions in the legislation align with the Task Force’s proposals to solidify scientific integrity at the federal level. Scientific integrity should be a pillar of ethical and trustworthy government, across partisan lines.” - Martha Kinsella, Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice

“Science needs to be conducted free from censorship, intimidation and misrepresentation. Unfortunately, current federal policies are often lacking key protections, such as prohibiting political interference. The Scientific Integrity Act works—in conjunction with a recent memorandum from President Biden—to correct these failings by instituting fundamental standards for science at federal agencies, and providing legally protected pathways to challenge and correct scientific integrity violations.” - Lauren Kurtz, Executive Director, Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

“The tragic pandemic consequences of politicized science and censorship illustrate how scientific integrity is unsurpassed for consequences to the public. This legislation would put teeth in the rights of scientific whistleblowers that have been gaining symbolic traction since the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, and substance when Congress made it protected speech in the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act to challenge obstruction or censorship of scientific research. Whistleblowers play an essential role in calling out instances of nefarious political interference in government science such as gagging or censoring federal scientists or distorting the reporting of scientific findings so as to promote an ideology or conspiracy theory, and brave whistleblowers from the Trump era like Rick Bright at Health and Human Services, Joel Clement at the Department of the Interior and Maria Caffrey at the National Park Service remind us that one voice can make a positive difference. The Scientific Integrity Act, if passed, will empower employees to ensure its enforcement through whistleblowing. The goal of this bill—to end the threat of substituting political science for the scientific method—can help heal and protect our nation from the harmful consequences of political interference with science. It is serious, needed legislation that deserves prompt action.” - Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project

“Over the past four years, leaders at several federal health agencies have disregarded science, with disastrous consequences for the COVID-19 response and other health priorities. Ignoring evidence while making changes to programs for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention has left thousands of people without services that are essential to their health and wellbeing. We applaud this bill for promoting the role of science to guide policy decisions on public health.” - Susan F. Wood, Executive Director, Jacobs Institute of Women's Health

“We learned a tragic lesson in 2020 about the importance of scientific integrity, and how lives can be lost when science is manipulated, ignored, politicized or misinterpreted. How many lives would have been saved if information about COVID-19 and the development of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and protective equipment and strategies had been based on scientific knowledge and expertise? That’s just one compelling example of how the Scientific Integrity Act is essential to help safeguard all Americans.” - Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., President, National Center for Health Research

“Passing the Scientific Integrity Act is a matter of life and death. The Trump administration betrayed the American public through the suppression of scientific facts and the political oppression of scientific professionals, and in so doing endangered the lives of millions. While the full extent of the damage or toll on human life may never be known, as a country we can do better, and Congress must rise above the fray to make it happen.” - Steve Lenkart, Executive Director, National Federation of Federal Employees

“Whether it’s fighting a pandemic, advancing reproductive, maternal, and overall health, or ensuring economic security or a livable environment, we need policies based on science—not ideology or political agendas. Sadly, over the last four years—and especially the last 12 months—we have seen how much irreparable harm decisionmakers cause when they ignore facts and science. The Scientific Integrity Act will ensure that policy making follows the best available science, that research and researchers are protected, and that public trust in our federal agencies is restored. Now more than ever, we need to be able to trust that our government is truly looking out for our health.” - Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, Vice President for Health Justice, National Partnership for Women and Families

“Protecting scientific integrity has never been more important than it is right now, as nearly everything we know and love about our communities and national parks is being threatened by climate change. Iconic park plants and animals are on the brink of extinction. Lakes and rivers are drying up, glaciers are melting, beaches are eroding and historic structures are crumbling. The Scientific Integrity Act is critical to creating a sustainable future for our national parks and ensuring the best available science is used to protect the health of our people and most vulnerable communities.” - Stephanie Kodish, Senior Director and Counsel, Clean Air & Climate Programs, National Parks Conservation Association

“Over the past year, we have all experienced how crucial accurate information is for navigating rapidly changing situations. Now and into the future, we also need accurate scientific information about climate change and how it is affecting ocean systems. This is necessary for the ocean’s health and our communities, so that they may weigh risks, make sensible decisions and pursue opportunities to thrive. It is also necessary for our blue economy, so that ocean industries that are facing climate impacts—such as fishing, shellfish harvesting, tourism and more – may prosper. Corrupting ocean science places the lives, jobs and property of millions of ocean-dependent Americans at risk from sea level rise, ocean warming, ocean acidification and oxygen loss. The Scientific Integrity Act is a critical piece of legislation that will help protect our ocean, as well as make all Americans safer and more prosperous by ensuring that federal scientific research results will not become suppressed, altered or distorted for political reasons.” - Dr. Sarah Cooley, Director of Climate Science, Ocean Conservancy

“The severity of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the U.S. underscores why scientists need to be able to communicate up-to-date, evidence-based information freely and directly with the public without fear of political pressure or retaliation. The Scientific Integrity Act would protect the public interest by strengthening scientific integrity policies and practices across government agencies, and the infrastructure necessary to enforce them. The bill is fundamental to restoring the public’s trust in policymakers’ ability to make informed decisions regarding the pandemic, and must be supported by all members of Congress.” - Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director, Open The Government

“This bill ensures that scientific integrity is safeguarded and expands protections for scientific whistleblowers. At a time when science and evidence-based information should be at the forefront of policy making decisions, the Scientific Integrity Act will help prevent attacks on scientific integrity and add much-needed accountability in our federal agencies. Promoting the role of science to guide policy decisions and allowing scientists and researchers to speak freely about their work will help Americans regain and restore public trust in both science and in the scientific process.” - Melissa Wasser, Policy Counsel, Project On Government Oversight

“Whistleblowers of America looks to Congress to renew the faith and commitment Americans have in employees of the scientific community. Scientists with true integrity and an ethical code of conduct must be able to freely exercise their rights to discuss, dissent and disclose if need be. They are our first line of defense against this virus and any other threats to our health and safety, and we need them protected from retaliation and supported. Scientists should not have to choose between their own livelihoods and the public good.” - Jacqueline Garrick, Founder, Whistleblowers of America