Analysis: White House memo on scientific integrity

Monday - 1/3/2011, 4:50pm EST

Gary Bass, Executive Director, OMBWatch

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The White House memo last month on scientific integrity states federal scientists should conduct their work independently and without political influence. (Scroll down to read the memo.)

The guidance was important because it may be the first time that the government issued in writing principles to strengthen scientific integrity, said Gary Bass, executive director of nonprofit OMBWatch, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

"We cannot censor our scientists and, if we do, then that suppression is going to have ramifications in the work that all our agencies do," Bass said.

The memo states there can be no interference in decisions and report-writing of federal advisory committees. It also gives federal scientists the right to participate in professional and scholarly activities, such as societies and publications. Before the memo was issued, "that was all very unclear," Bass said.

However, the memo is not clear on scientists' right to speak to the press and the public. Under the Bush administration, federal scientists were not allowed to talk to journalists. Last week's guidance states scientists can talk to journalists but must have "appropriate coordination" with supervisors and the public affairs office.

The memo also does not explain how to train agencies to abide by the rules and says nothing about enforcement if an agency does not abide by the rules, Bass said.

The effectiveness of the memo is left in the hands of agencies to implement. "All eyes really have to be on the agencies," Bass said.

Bass said his hope is that the scientific integrity principles become "part and parcel" to President Obama's overall principles on government transparency.

"I'm hopeful we have a situation where transparency becomes the modus operandi of our government," Bass said.

Science Memo