Scientific Integrity in Policy Making

Investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science

Published Jul 13, 2008


On February 18, 2004, 62 preeminent scientists including Nobel laureates, National Medal of Science recipients, former senior advisers to administrations of both parties, numerous members of the National Academy of Sciences, and other well-known researchers released a statement titled Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making. In this statement, the scientists charged the Bush administration with widespread "manipulation of the process through which science enters into its decisions." This statement has now been signed by more than 12,000 scientists.

The scientists' statement referenced specific cases that illustrate this pattern of behavior. In conjunction with the statement, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released detailed documentation of the the scientists' charges in its report Scientific Integrity in Policy Making, which was updated in July 2004 with another report titled Scientific Integrity in Policy Making: Further investigation of the Bush administration's abuse of science. UCS has continued to document this problem through our surveys of federal scientists and case studies of scientific integrity abuses.

UCS research presents the following findings:

  • There is a well established pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees across numerous federal agencies. These actions have consequences for human health, public safety, and community well-being.
  • There is strong documentation of a wide-ranging effort to manipulate the government's scientific advisory system to prevent the appearance of advice that might run counter to the administration's political agenda.
  • There is evidence that the administration often imposes restrictions on what government scientists can say or write about "sensitive" topics.

On April 2, 2004, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a statement by John H. Marburger, III, the director of OSTP, that claims the descriptions of the incidents in the UCS report are all "false," "wrong," or "a distortion." UCS analysis of the particulars in the White House document shows that these claims are unjustified. Since that time, the administration has been virtually silent on the issue.

Given the lack of serious consideration and response by the administration to concerns raised by thousands of scientists, UCS is committed to continuing to investigate and publicize cases—corroborated by witnesses and documentation—in which politics is allowed to stifle or distort the integrity of the scientific process in governmental policy making. UCS—working with scientists across many disciplines, other organizations, and elected officials—will also seek to develop and implement solutions that will protect government scientists from retribution when they bring scientific abuse to light, provide better scientific input and advice to Congress and to science-based agencies, and ensure full access to government scientific analysis that has not been legitimately classified for national security reasons.

The United States has an impressive history of investing in and reaping the benefits of scientific research. Recent actions have threatened to undermine the morale and compromise the integrity of scientists working for and advising America's world-class governmental research institutions and agencies. Not only does the public expect and deserve government to provide it with accurate information, the government has a responsibility to ensure that policy decisions are not based on intentionally or knowingly flawed science. To do so carries serious implications for the health, safety, and environment of all Americans.

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