NOTE: The following is one of a series of case studies produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program between 2004 and 2010 to document the abuses highlighted in our 2004 report, Scientific Integrity in Policy Making.
Interviews with scientists show that in recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricted its scientists from presenting their research at conferences, thereby impeding the communication and exchange of scientific information. Science is based on the free exchange of ideas and thrives when scientists are free to interact with each other, opening their ideas to wide-ranging scrutiny.
In the fall of 2006, EPA managers barred an agency scientist from giving an invited talk at a conference on soil science, because the topic involved the politically sensitive subject of climate change. The EPA eventually allowed the talk to proceed after protests and intervention by the session organizers.
A colleague of the scientist in question, who does not work for the EPA and asked to remain anonymous, described the events leading to the talk. Session organizers invited the EPA scientist—an acknowledged leader in the field—to give the talk, and he accepted. Several months later the scientist notified the organizers that he would have to withdraw because he received word from his supervisor that the EPA would not approve travel for scientists in his division to make presentations related to climate change or atmospheric ozone.1
Concerned that this was inappropriate and possibly a miscommunication, session organizers contacted a higher-level manager at EPA headquarters. The organizers warned that if the agency did not approve the talk, they would announce that fact to conference attendees, and observe "20 minutes of silence" when the scientist had been scheduled to speak. The EPA then approved the talk.
Another EPA scientist, also on condition of anonymity, reported being unable to present research results related to climate change at two scientific conferences in the past few years.2
Too often an agency's desire to "control the message" has led to the suppression of information and the censorship of the government's own experts. Federal agencies must allow their scientists to participate in the scientific community and speak freely about their research.
Note: This page is an excerpt from the 2008 UCS report Interference at the EPA.
1. Anonymous non-EPA scientist. 2007. UCS interview.
2. Anonymous EPA scientist. 2007. UCS interview.