Culture of Science Returns to the White House

Yesterday, President Obama issued a memorandum that follows Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) advice to prevent the abuse, manipulation and suppression of federal science. For the first time, Obama specifically assigns the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy with responsibility for ensuring the “highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes.”

According to Obama’s memo, the OSTP director has four months to develop recommendations designed to guarantee scientific integrity across the executive branch. Specifically called out in the memo are the need for transparency and for executive departments and agencies to adopt procedures to restore the integrity of science including where necessary, whistleblower protections.

More than 15,000 scientists from across the country have signed a UCS-sponsored statement denouncing the politicization of federal science, and today's memorandum is proof that the Obama administration heard their cry. Federal policy decisions that affect public health and the environment must be based on robust scientific analysis free of political interference and manipulation.

UCS surveys at nine agencies have documented that, over the past eight years, federal scientists have been working in a climate of fear and intimidation. For example, 60 percent of the EPA scientists who filled out a 2007 survey said they personally experienced at least one instance of political interference in their work over the previous five years.

We've reached an important milestone in restoring scientific integrity, but a lot of work remains to be done to ensure interference does not occur in the future. The Obama administration must work with Congress to adopt new laws, such as whistleblower protections for scientists, which will ensure future administrations cannot commit the kinds of abuses we've seen over the last eight years.