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Executive Office Releases “Protecting the Integrity of Government Science” Report 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released its Scientific Integrity Task Force Report, Protecting the Integrity of Government Science. The report set to establish scientific integrity principles and best practices and focused on how to prevent political interference in the communication of science, and how to improve the transparency of scientific-integrity policies. 

“This report identifies approaches to bolster the ability of Federal agencies to protect government science. It responds to the January 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking, which calls for an interagency Scientific Integrity Task Force to review agency scientific integrity policies; consider whether they prevent political interference in the conduct, management, communication, and use of science; and identify effective practices for improving their implementation,” the report states

The report examined stories of political interference in science by federal whistle-blowers, such as the “Sharpiegate” scandal involving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA0) and President Trump. This example is just one of over 500 documented attempts to restrict, prohibit, or misuse scientific research in recent years. 

The public’s trust in science was a significant finding of the report. While violations of scientific integrity are minute compared to the scale of the federal government’s scientific enterprise, they can significantly undermine federal decision-making and public trust in science. The report also noted that existing federal scientific integrity policies are dated and need to be strengthened to prevent the technology-advanced, inappropriate influence in the conduct, management, communication, and use of science.

The task force also discussed the importance of paying attention to other policy areas to support scientific integrity, such as greater transparency into research processes and outputs, clear guidelines for data and information that agencies release, and policies that promote safe, equitable workplaces free from harassment and discrimination. This last area of importance is striking, given the recent news of the OSTP director resigning over workplace-behavioral concerns. 

Additional recommendations for policymaking include:

  • All federal agencies should develop, implement, and periodically update scientific integrity policies. 

  • Scientific integrity policies should apply to all those in federal agencies who manage, communicate, or use science, not just to scientists and engineers who conduct research, and not just to career employees, but contractors and political appointees as well. 

  • Scientific integrity policies should be modernized to address important, emergent issues. 

  • There should be broader dissemination and adoption of good scientific integrity practices across the federal government, a task that could be facilitated by more formalized interagency collaboration.

  • There should be widespread training for agency scientists so they can communicate scientific findings effectively to nonscientists in their agencies and to lay audiences, with the idea of helping to ensure that policies and actions are based on an accurate understanding of the science.