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Why Must NASA Scientific Integrity Policy be so Daunting and Difficult to Navigate?

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In an email yesterday to NASA employees (reproduced below), NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to scientific integrity, touting the scientific integrity policy NASA finalized in December.  If only the scientists who work there could navigate through it.

“Integrity is woven throughout the fabric” of NASA, wrote Dr. Abdalati, and is “embedded in the rules and requirements that govern our professional behavior.” Referencing various policies, the agency noted that it had been a leader in preserving and protecting the integrity of science. Indeed, NASA does have strong policies in place – its data and methods sharing policy and whistleblower policy are some of the strongest in the federal government.

But NASA falls short of the standard set by agencies like NOAA and the EPA. Why? Its scientific integrity policy does little more than link to twenty related policies, rather than succinctly stating clear standards for scientific integrity and procedures for dealing with violations of it.

Together, the twenty referenced policies add up to more than 200 pages of text. The lack of clear definitions, principles and procedures makes the scientific integrity policy daunting and difficult to navigate.

NASA’s scientific integrity policy should be clear and concise, and in one location. Simply linking to hundreds of pages of existing information is certainly a barrier to fully developing a culture of scientific integrity.

Here’s the email:

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Recommitting to Scientific Integrity
Date: Tue, 15 May 2012 09:31:10 -0500
From: HQ-NASA INC
AGENCYWIDE MESSAGE TO ALL NASA EMPLOYEES:
Point of Contact: Sarah Dewitt, Office of the Chief Scientist, NASA Headquarters, 202-358-2451
————————————————————————

MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF SCIENTIST

Recommitting to Scientific Integrity

The iconic success of NASA is planted firmly on three foundational elements: innovation, inspiration, and integrity. While innovation and inspiration are visible through our endeavors and successes, it is our integrity – how we work, and our commitment to excellence and openness – that earns us the trust of the public and ensures our continued ability to inspire and innovate.  Integrity is woven throughout the fabric of NASA.  It has always been there. And each and every day, we recommit ourselves to keeping it there.

Integrity is embedded in the rules and requirements that govern our professional behavior across all technical disciplines – in aeronautics, science and human exploration. It entails the responsible conduct of research and the pursuit of standards aimed at maintaining public trust in the scientific work that we perform.  NASA has had policies in place for several years to meet these aims while also preserving employees’ freedoms to share their work with the public and their professional peers.  A commitment to responsibility, transparency, and freedom in research has been essential to NASA’s ability to achieve incredible scientific research results and engineering feats.  We at NASA should all be very proud of these achievements.

In response to a request from the Obama Administration to all federal agencies engaged in research and development activities, a team at NASA has recently revisited our policies.  We expanded them to make selections of federal advisory committee members more transparent and to clarify the requirements and steps for employees to participate in outside professional organizations.  We also used this opportunity to reaffirm our employees’ freedom to speak openly with the press, as addressed in the agency’s current communications policy, the public and their peers about the work they do.  We have assembled the full set of policies in a Framework on Scientific Integrity accessible on NASA’s website at:

http://www.nasa.gov/news/reports/sif.html

Despite the name, this responsibility actually extends far beyond just science. Whether we are scientists or engineers, accountants or astronauts, all of us are responsible for making NASA’s incredible achievements possible and, thus, for upholding principles of scientific integrity in our work. I invite you to take a moment to review the framework and submit any questions or comments through the InsideNASA website. I appreciate your continued commitment to the ideals outlined in this framework. It is our integrity that helps make NASA such a great place to work. Your awareness of the freedoms and responsibilities these policies support will help us continue to pursue new knowledge, fuel wonder, and make groundbreaking discoveries about the universe and our place in it.

Waleed Abdalati
Chief Scientist
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
——————————————————————
This notice is being sent agencywide to all employees by NASA INC in the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters.

Posted in: Scientific Integrity Tags: ,

About the author: Francesca Grifo is an expert on political interference in science and practices to ensure transparency and integrity at the intersection of science and policy. In addition, Dr. Grifo has more than 30 years of experience in environmental issues including biodiversity conservation, environmental education and global change and human health. She holds a Ph.D. in botany. Subscribe to Francesca's posts

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