The outlook for the independence of scientists throughout government just got a lot sunnier. Just a few moments ago, the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Scientific Integrity Act as part of the HEROES Act COVID-19 stimulus legislation. The Scientific Integrity Act would shield government scientists and their work from political influence. The legislation makes it more likely that the experts who work on our behalf can investigate public health and environmental threats and share their work directly and honestly.
I still strongly believe what I told the House Science Committee when I testified about this legislation last July: decision makers and the public want to hear what experts know, when they know it. We deserve that access. All of the experts at that hearing agreed with that premise, and Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the bill out of committee.
In fact, all modern Democratic and Republican presidential administrations have manipulated and suppressed science for political reasons. We have documented cases dating back to President Eisenhower.
Now, members of both parties are now among the 232 co-sponsors of the Scientific Integrity Act. A bipartisan task force led by the Brennan Center for Justice endorsed it. And the legislation enjoys broad support from good government groups, environmental organizations, public health advocates, and unions.
It’s easy to forget how credible, independent science impacts our daily lives when we are safe and healthy and our environment is clean. Many of us don’t think about the scientists who make sure toys are safe and that our air is healthy.
Yet as soon as things start falling apart, whether it’s through systemic injustice or from a temporary threat, we realize the importance of access to good information. The value of science is not greater in these moments—it’s just more evident.
Science doesn’t dictate policy, but science must inform it. Experts throughout government—at the EPA, at the CDC, at NOAA, at NASA, at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and at many other agencies—are there to make sure that information can serve the public interest. Whether it’s climate change, severe weather, pollution, food safety, or infectious disease, the choices we make to protect ourselves and our communities become harder when we aren’t confident that we can trust what we hear.
Especially now, when we are all seeking information to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, the need for these protections is ever more self-evident. The Scientific Integrity Act is a good and needed step to encourage federal scientists to follow the evidence where it leads and publicly share what they learn.