The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued guidelines on 17 December 2010 to ensure that research conducted by government scientists is not altered for political purposes. The new policy was released 18 months after the initial deadline set by President Obama.
“Science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses from inappropriate political influence; political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings,” wrote Dr. John Holdren, Director of OSTP and the President’s science adviser, in the memo setting forth the policy.
The policy outlines four principles for the foundations of scientific integrity in government: 1) ensuring a culture of scientific integrity, 2) strengthening the actual and perceived credibility of government research, 3) facilitating the free flow of scientific and technological information, and 4) establishing principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public. These guidelines include directives to federal agencies to hire scientists based primarily on their technical expertise and not their ideology, to subject scientific information to independent peer review when feasible, and to ensure protections for whistleblowers.
Government agencies are also directed to establish policies that “promote and facilitate, as permitted by law, the professional development of Government scientists and engineers.” This includes encouraging the publication of research in peer-reviewed journals and the presentation of research at professional meetings, and allowing government scientists to fully participate in professional societies, including serving on task forces or on the governing board.
The policy addresses the communication of scientific information to the public and the use of federal advisory committees. Of note, the policy directive states that “[i]n no circumstance may public affairs officers ask or direct Federal scientists to alter scientific findings.”
So far, the policy has received mixed reviews. Some groups have criticized the policy for lacking details and for not explicitly inviting public involvement as federal agencies develop their own policies to implement the government-wide policy. Federal agencies have 120 days to implement the new policy.
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