Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Scientist Group Demands Formal Scientific Integrity Policy

Historically scientists have been looked on by the public as "those guys in white lab coats" or the elitist ones in their ivory towers. Many scientists like to keep their distance from public policy, preferring to do their science and assessments while letting politicians set policy. Others feel that scientists haven't played enough of a role in determining how their science is used. The climate change debate has found scientist and non-scientist using science to prove or disprove global warming.

Well, the activist group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in the United States is urging EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to adopt formal policies on her stated commitments to scientific integrity, openness and the rule of law, after expressing concerns over the former New Jersey environment secretary's record in that state. They also are reacting to accusations of a lack of scientific integrity of the previous administration. The group sent Jackson a letter on January 26th asking her to “immediately translate these sentiments into concrete, enforceable agency policies. As President Obama has done in issuing a series of directives on openness and ethics, PEER strongly advocates that you declare specific policies that outlaw gag orders, forbid political rewrites of scientific findings and hold managers accountable for actions found to be illegal.”

In a January 23rd memo to EPA staff, Jackson expressed support for the so-called “fishbowl” policy initiated in 1983 by then-EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus. The transparency policy, reaffirmed by every president but the Bush administration, says that the agency should operate “in a fishbowl.” The Bush EPA drew fire for failing to formally adopt the fishbowl memo and PEER says Jackson's stated support is insufficient. “This needs to be more explicit and enforceable, rather than 'Trust me.'" Adopting a formal policy on scientific integrity and openness would mean EPA employees who violate it “are subject to discipline and people who get in trouble for following the policy could use it as a defense.” Specifically, PEER wants Jackson to adopt policies forbidding alteration of scientific documents for non-technical reasons without public disclosure; banning adverse personnel actions or other discrimination in retaliation for voicing a reasonable scientific disagreement; revoking all existing gag orders; and to stating that agency officials responsible for decisions found to violate federal law will face discipline or removal from their jobs.

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