The White House Wants Your Advice on Improving Scientific Integrity

July 16, 2021 | 1:26 pm
Scientist examines the result of a plaque assayCDC/unsplash
Taryn MacKinney
Former Contributor

On January 27, the newly inaugurated president, Joe Biden, signed a historic memorandum outlining a bold vision for the future of science in government. Among other things, the memo created a task force within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to review scientific integrity policies—in other words, the rules that keep federal science independent, accessible to the public, and safe from political interference. These rules are vital, especially for agencies that rely on science to protect public health and the environment, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Now, the task force wants help from you—yes, you. As it crafts recommendations to improve scientific integrity, the task force seeks ideas from the public on five key questions:

  1. Do scientific integrity policies help the public trust federal science? How so?
  2. How could federal agencies improve the ways they communicate scientific information?
  3. How could agencies strengthen the scientific workforce and keep federal science independent?
  4. What could agencies do to better train their scientists and keep the public in the loop?
  5. What other policies could protect scientific integrity? What else should agencies prioritize?

These are complicated questions that will have complicated answers, but don’t let that dissuade you from sending your thoughts and ideas. The White House needs to hear from many people—scientists and experts, advocates and activists, and everyone in between.

What can you do to help?

Sign our public comment by 11:59pm ET on July 27, 2021.

This is a great option if you’re an activist or concerned citizen who may not know the ins-and-outs of scientific integrity policies, but who believes in strong, independent federal science. You can add your name at the link here; once you do, send the petition to your friends, family, and colleagues. The more names White House officials see, the stronger our message will be.

Join a public listening session on July 28-30, 2021.

The task force is hosting three virtual listening sessions, each organized around a theme and geared toward a particular group—for example, journalists on the first day, scientists on the second. But regardless of the session, participants can talk about the challenges facing scientific integrity and ways to solve them. This is a great opportunity to share your ideas or listen to others. Register here by 5pm ET on July 23, 2021.

Submit your own comment by 5pm ET on July 28, 2021.

This is a great option if you’re a scientist, analyst, former or current civil servant, or expert in a scientific or administrative field. If you’ve submitted a public comment before, then great! You know the drill.

If you’ve never submitted a public comment before, that’s great too! Submitting a comment might seem intimidating—How long should it be? What should I write about? How do I send it?—but with the right tools, it’s a cinch.

And fortunately, we have the right tools for you: We’ve written a guide to help you create your own comment for the White House. It’s a hefty document, but don’t be put off by the length: The first three pages offer pointers on how to write and submit it, and the rest outlines specific policy recommendations—recommendations that you’re welcome to pick and choose from, but certainly don’t have to.

You can submit your comment as an individual, on behalf of only yourself. But if you’re a member or employee of an organization, company, club, school, or other collective that cares about federal science, you can submit a comment as a group. For example, the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS will submit a comment as an organization, signed by a few individuals but sent on behalf of CSD broadly.

Once you’ve decided this, it’s time to write your comment. Check out our comment guide for details, but here are five steps to get you started.

  1. Plan it. If you still have questions after reviewing our comment guide, take a look at OSTP’s Request for Information (RFI). It’ll give you an idea about what OSTP is looking for and how to prepare your comment.
  2. Write it. You can respond to as many of the RFI’s prompts as you want. Feel free to draw from this guide, other reliable sources, and your own experience. You’re welcome to add links or sources, but don’t include personal, proprietary, or copyrighted information. You can also attach peer-reviewed publications that you reference, so that the agency can read and consider them.
  3. Format it. Don’t exceed 7 pages in 12-point font (single-spaced is fine, but not required). Add page numbers. Include your name, your general role (e.g., federal employee, member of the public), and—if you’d like—your profession (e.g., researcher, student, organizer, etc.).
  4. Submit it. Email your comment to [email protected]. Include “SI-FTAC RFI” in the subject line of the email. Though OSTP is not requesting a specific format, we suggest you attach your comment as a PDF, if possible.
  5. Keep us in the loop. Let us know if you’re submitting a comment by filling out our sign-up form (if you haven’t already) or contacting Shea Kinser at [email protected]. We’ll follow up with hands-on resources or support.

Focus your comment on what you know.

If you feel stuck on step #2 (writing the darn thing!), that’s okay—that’s the hardest part, after all. Here are a few steps to help you formulate your comment, and a few prompts to get you thinking.

  1. Be specific. Reflect on recent challenges, like the pandemic, climate change, or threats to democracy. Think of a personal experience or specific government decision that caused you to lose trust in the policymaking process. Perhaps you worried that the government was misusing science or prioritizing private interests over the public good. Or perhaps you are a current or former federal employee and experienced losses of scientific integrity personally. What happened? Why were you concerned?
  2. Identify impacts. Think about how this event or experience impacted you and the people and places you care about. Did the decision stand to impact your work and life? How so? How did you and your community feel the impacts? If you are or were a federal employee, what impacts were felt by you or your colleagues? How was their research or careers affected? How did it change your perception of federal science and evidence-based decisionmaking.
  3. Look ahead. With the event or experience in mind, think through concrete suggestions. Which policies or procedures might prevent similar incidents in the future? We include recommendations in this comment guide, so that’s a good place to start. You can focus on one suggestion or on many; write what you are comfortable with.

And above all, remember that your comment doesn’t have to be perfect—it just has to come from you. Your unique experiences and ideas will matter a lot to the officials who will read them. And if we all pitch in and share our ideas, we can all help our government get closer to achieving its goal: strong federal science that serves the public good.