Friday, October 8, 2010

Obama Administration Revisits Scientific Integrity Policy

Over a year and a half ago I reported on the Obama Admininstration's call for Agencies to develop scientific integrity rules, and even asked for the public's input. The main activist group representing government scientists also called for a formal policy.  Just last week I noted that the Department of Interior has finally issued their rules, though OMBWatch, the Office of Management and Budget watchdog organization, felt they didn't go far enough. Now the National Commission set up earlier this year to monitor and evaluate the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has come out to say that the White House could have done a better job.

So where is the Administration on developing these guidelines, and why is it taking so long?

Remember that the rationale for developing scientific integrity rules in the first place was because there were so many complaints about how the Bush Administration had suppressed science that conflicted with its political goals.  As Francesca Grifo from the Union of Concerned Scientists says in a recent edition of "All Things Considered" on NPR: 
The point is that you don't want to have political appointees using science as a cover and changing the science so that it appears that what they're doing is science-based when it's not. And that's certainly what we had eight years of. And we really were hoping, with this administration, that that was not what we're going to see. 

The problem seems to be one of the trials of getting new policies through the federal bureaucracy, including the OMB, and the fact that this administrations agenda has been been quite full during the first 21 months, as opposed to any attempt to suppress science.  But clearly the administration needs to step up the pace and ensure policies are in place.  According to John Holdren, Obama's "science czar," (again, from the NPR transcript) they expect to have guidelines in place by December.  Holdren also says that "the administration is already living by the principles of scientific integrity. But he adds, even when the guidelines are finally published, putting them in practice will be a challenge."

The full recording of the NPR discussion and a transcript can be found here.

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