The Obama administration yesterday released long-awaited guidelines to prevent political meddling with scientific research.
The guidelines allow government scientists general freedom to speak to journalists and the public about their work, while also prohibiting government agencies from editing or suppressing reports by independent advisory committees. The agencies are further instructed to discuss the “probabilities associated with both optimistic and pessimistic projections” of scientific work. The agencies are to report their plans for carrying out the policy to Dr. John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, within 120 days.
Many scientists and organizations, including the Center for Inquiry, called for the establishment of such guidelines after a series of scientific controversies that occurred under the administration of President George W. Bush. For example, scientists repeatedly accused officials of suppressing or altering research findings on climate change, the effectiveness of abstinence-only education, and other issues when the research findings did not match the Bush administration’s political views. CFI issued position papers in May and October 2007 that proposed legislation to prevent tampering with federally funded scientific research and promote the impartiality of federal advisory committees. CFI also worked with Congressional staff to craft specific legislative language to address these issues.
Shortly after taking office, President Obama called for his administration to produce recommendations and guidelines within four months, declaring the need for principles to restore “scientific integrity to government decision-making.” The president added that “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Despite the president’s call for immediate action, it took over a year and a half for the guidelines to emerge.