Measuring Progress on Scientific Integrity Two Years Later

, former science policy fellow | December 17, 2012, 4:40 pm EST
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Two years ago today, John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, sent a memorandum to government leaders regarding one of the president’s early priorities: creating strong scientific integrity standards within the executive branch in order to prevent political interference in science.

We were somewhat critical of Dr. Holdren’s memorandum when it was released for two reasons. First, it was a year and a half late. Second, it had several glaring omissions, particularly regarding the ability of government scientists to communicate with the media.

So what has happened over the past 24 months?

Dr. Holdren’s memorandum outlined guidance for agencies in five areas: the foundations of scientific integrity in government, public communications, use of federal advisory committees, professional development of government scientists and engineers, and policy implementation. 23 federal departments, agencies, commissions and offices have drafted and finalized scientific integrity policies, many of which can be found here.

The policies vary in quality and comprehensiveness. Some agencies and departments broke significant new ground. Others did the bare minimum. Whether a policy has a meaningful impact on federal policy making will depend on the scientific integrity policy itself, its implementation, and how much agency leaders embrace it.

In January, as the president prepares to embark on his second term, we will release a critique of each policy. There is clearly more work to be done by the federal government, and we expect that our analysis will help both the White House and executive branch agencies realize the administration’s original goal.

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