What Happened to Obama’s Commitment to Scientific Integrity?

Today, March 9, is the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s scientific integrity memo which instructed his staff to produce within 120 days recommendations for ensuring independence of federal scientists and limiting political interference in their work. 365 days later, we’re still waiting.

expect delays The Union of Concerned Scientists is critical of the delay. Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s scientific integrity program, had this to say:

While the new administration has been generally supportive of scientific integrity values, it's moving too slowly to establish badly needed reforms. The current system still discourages scientists from communicating about their research results, for example. It still keeps the public in the dark about the scientific basis for policy decisions, and it still rewards staffers who keep quiet about political interference in science. 

The criteria Obama laid out in his March 9, 2009, memo are admirable: hiring and keeping qualified scientists; defining new policies to ensure integrity; using “well-established scientific processes” like peer review; disclosing scientific findings; ensuring that scientific integrity principles are being adhered to; and adopting additional policies like whistleblower protections.

But by failing to follow up with a concrete set of reforms, Obama and John Holdren – the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy who was tasked with developing recommendations – are sending a terrible message to those who believe scientific integrity ought to be a priority for this administration.

Interference in science reached new heights under President George W. Bush; but just because Bush is gone does not mean the problems go away too. As OMB Watch discusses in the latest issue of our e-newsletter The Watcher, a new report from the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) proves that much work remains. SKAPP interviewed federal scientists during both the Bush and Obama administrations, and found that although there were a few bright spots in scientists' views of the changes that had occurred, a majority felt similar frustrations.

Couple this delay with the now year-plus delay on Obama’s effort to improve the regulatory process by writing a new executive order, and my outlook on the administration’s commitment to government reform is dimming.

Photo by Flickr user davidfntau. Used under a Creative Commons license.

back to Blog