The President’s Unfinished Promise: The Federal Government Still Lacks a Meaningful Scientific Integrity Policy

It has been common for scientists, including me, to criticize previous federal administrations for condoning scientific misconduct when it comes to denying climate change or ignoring environmental concerns. So when, in April 2009, President Obama told the National Academy of Sciences “we are restoring science to its rightful place“, and “the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over“, the scientists in the audience, including me, gave him a standing ovation. The President then instructed his science advisor Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), to issue uniform guidelines for a strong federal scientific integrity policy within three months. But nearly seven years later, there is still no meaningful federal scientific integrity policy, and parts of the Obama administration have continued to misuse science to support ideology. The next administration can, and should, do better.

It took OSTP more than 18 months to issue feeble guidelines that gave individual federal agencies complete discretion to develop their own policies. How effective are those individual policies? The answer is that the policies vary from strong to very weak.

For example, at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that oversees the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is a strong policy administered by the Office of Research Integrity. In contrast, as shown here, at the Department of the Interior, there is a weak policy that in practice has so little substance as to be meaningless. The Department of Justice, in defending Interior’s decisions, is no better.

Here I present two striking examples. The common theme in both examples is that someone at the top (e.g., the Director of the National Park Service or the Secretary of Interior) made their wishes clearly known about the outcome they desired —> Read More