Scientific Integrity at the EPA and NSF

August 28, 2011 | 3:59 pm
Francesca Grifo
Former contributor

The Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists was started because it was just too easy for federal decision makers to use science as a screen to hide policies based on ideology and the influence of special interests. Manipulated and suppressed scientific information and censored scientists removed the barriers to justify the policies they wanted to put forward.

Pythagoras Cartoon from 2009 UCS Cartoon Contest

We documented scores of examples of political interference in science, and measured the pervasiveness of the problem through surveys of federal scientists. We analyzed what went wrong and used that information to help us develop solutions to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking.

And now that we have a sympathetic ear in the White House, it is time to put in place policies that will prevent this happening in the future. We need policies that create accountability by giving the public more information about how science-based public policy decisions about our health and environment are made—and who is influencing them.

To that end, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued scientific integrity guidelines requiring more than 30 federal agencies and departments to create scientific integrity policies in order to prevent the misuse of science in the policy-making process. Thus far, several agencies have made draft policies public in response to the guidelines.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) are seeking public comment on improving their drafts. Given the central role of science to these agencies’ missions, it is especially important that the policies are strong and protect federal scientists and science from political interference through the current and future presidential administrations.

You can find the EPA and NSF policies, UCS analysis of the policies, and instructions on submitting your own comments here.

Both policies represent significant progress but are in need of critical improvements. For example, both policies should better articulate to whom the policy applies, expand conflict-of-interest definitions, and provide stronger protections for employees who report political interference in their work.

For both agencies, comments are due by September 6, 2011. They need to hear from scientists and their supporters that this is important. Please take the time to submit comments today.

Image: © UCS/Matthew Shultz