Department of Interior Buries Communications Policy After Attempting to Justify Muzzling Scientists
What happened: In June, the Los Angeles Times broke the story about a new policy at the US Geological Survey (USGS) requiring scientists to get permission before speaking to reporters and representing a dramatic change from decades of past media practices. The Department of Interior (DOI) falsely claimed the new policy was consistent with guidelines published during the Obama administration, which gave scientists more freedom to publicly share their expertise. The policy was removed from its original location and was buried deep in the DOI website after it was linked to by reporters.
Why it matters: The policy specifies that the communications office “must be notified in advance of any media interviews, media requests or contacts that may involve significant policy announcements or that may generate significant news coverage, public interest or inquiry.” USGS scientists will now be unable to respond to reporters’ questions in a timely fashion, leading to a lack of dissemination of important scientific knowledge to the public. This policy gives political appointees the authority to muzzle government scientists, giving political appointees control over what knowledge can and can’t be shared with the public.