Energy & Environment

Watchdog group says White House science integrity measure amounts to a ‘gag rule’

White house.

A whistleblower and advocacy group is raising concerns over what they call a “gag rule” against federal scientists that was included in White House scientific integrity guidelines. 

Earlier this month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a model scientific integrity policy as part of a larger framework on the issue for the federal government. 

This model policy includes a section that says agency scientists should “refrain from making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on” federal policies, unless they have gotten authorization to do so. 

The model integrity policy is described as an example of what an ideal policy would look like and is broadly not in place at federal agencies yet. Instead, it will inform what agency scientific integrity policies could look like. 

The Agriculture Department’s integrity policy includes similar language saying that scientists shouldn’t make policy judgments. 

In a press release complaining about the measure on Monday, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility described the provision against policy judgments as a “gag rule.”

Jeff Ruch, the group’s Pacific director, said that restricting federal scientists from commenting on policy is the opposite of what a scientific integrity policy is supposed to do. 

“Any time a scientist wrote something that had any policy implications, it could be suppressed, which runs counter to the whole idea of a scientific integrity policy,” Ruch said. 

The OSTP pushed back on the group’s characterization, with a spokesperson saying, “There is no gag rule.”

“OSTP is working with Federal departments and agencies to ensure that Federal scientific integrity policies and practices support scientific communication with the media and the public, including the timely release of scientific information,” the spokesperson said in a written statement. 

The spokesperson also said that the agency’s new framework includes “ensuring that federal scientists can fully participate and communicate scientific information, free of interference.”

When President Biden first took office, the administration took steps that appeared to be aimed at restoring scientific integrity after Trump-era scandals relating to issues including COVID-19. 

More recently, it released the framework, saying that it would bolster scientific integrity by including a consistent definition of scientific integrity, providing a model to agencies and giving them new tools to assess and improve their policies and practices. 

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