Standing Up for Science: Guiding Principles

Published Dec 14, 2017

Table of Contents

Most Americans understand the value of science and the essential role facts and evidence play when making decisions—in our personal lives, at work, and in our communities. And we know that science-based protections help safeguard our health, safety, and environment. But now, more than ever, we need to be watchdogs to make sure science doesn’t get silenced or sidelined by government officials or special interests. 

Every day, our health and well-being depend on science-based decisions—which industrial chemicals to allow in our neighborhoods, what kind of nutrition our kids are getting in school, what prescription drugs are safe. We need to insist that the best available science is considered when our government makes decisions, and when it issues information that can help the public make decisions about our safety and that of our families.

Key principles:

Our health and safety depend on science

There is no means to adequately protect our health and safety without science. Yet, unless we are watchful, powerful interests will attempt to push aside inconvenient science. We must fight to keep the science-based laws that protect us at home, in our communities, and in our workplaces from contaminants such as mercury and pesticides that threaten our food, air, and water.

Public investment in science drives innovation

The private sector does a great job turning government-funded research into marketable products. At the same time, public investments in long-term basic research have yielded pathbreaking technologies such as the internet and GPS navigation, and opened the door to cutting-edge treatments for diseases such as childhood leukemia and HIV. Throughout our history, US government scientists—and academic scientists funded by the government—have made astonishing contributions that have benefited our nation and the world. To keep this progress going, we need to be vigilant to stop attempts to cut off funding for science agencies.

Public science is essential

Public science improves people’s lives and livelihoods. The government collects and analyzes data to help vulnerable communities prepare for severe storms, to help farmers improve crop yields, to help public health officials understand the spread of disease and determine the safety of water supplies, and to help city planners site new roads. Federal agencies employ scientists to provide expert input and analysis that can guide government decision-making. Private businesses have no incentive to put their money into this irreplaceable kind of science. 

We all suffer when science becomes politicized

Public science—in government agencies and/or funded by the government—is intended to help inform decision-making no matter what political party is in power. We all suffer if government officials and private interests twist evidence, censor scientific results, muzzle scientific experts, or treat science like a political football.  

A healthy democracy requires honesty and accountability

Lying to the public for private or political gain is always wrong. Honesty and accountability are fundamental to a well-functioning democracy. The scientific enterprise and our democracy demand a higher standard that rejects cynical gamesmanship by lobbyists or spin doctors who are richly rewarded for misleading the public. These individuals and firms should be held accountable for misconduct. 

The public has a right to know

Taxpayers have a right to see the results and methodology of government research. Similarly, communities should have access to scientific information directly related to public health and the local environment. For example, chemical companies should publicly report all hazardous materials they emit into the air and water, and should be required to provide local leaders and first responders with up-to-date information about any potentially dangerous chemicals stored on-site. 

Science should support equity and justice

All too often, the benefits from scientific and technological advances have not been equitably shared, and low-income communities and people of color have borne disproportionate risks associated with some of these advances, both within the United States and around the world. It is not enough to develop solutions that improve health, security, and the environment at a general level; science can and should be applied to reduce racial and economic inequity. We need to work to understand what scientific research low-income communities and communities of color need and how we can work together to develop and share that research to alleviate existing inequities and ensure that future solutions do not perpetuate environmental or other injustices.

We all need to stand up for science

Efforts to sideline science can take many forms: legislators can cut research budgets; agencies can replace independent scientific advisors with an industry’s chosen representatives; inconvenient research can be brushed aside or censored. All of us—not just scientists but also educators, businesspeople, and other concerned individuals—need to speak out when science is ignored, manipulated, or censored, because such actions undermine our democracy, inhibit progress, increase inequity, and lead to decisions that endanger our health and safety.

For nearly 50 years, the Union of Concerned Scientists has stood up for science and these fundamental principles, and we proudly continue to do so. 

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