"Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on scientific integrity and attacks on science in the
"I am a marine scientist with over thirty years of experience in research, providing scientific advice for governments and in implementing science-based policies. Among my previous positions, before joining the
"Science must play a central role in the
"Since 2004, the
Strong Scientific Integrity Standards Are Essential for Government Accountability
"In recent years, the definition of scientific integrity has been focused on ensuring that science produced and considered by the federal government is not censored or politically influenced, that this science fully informs public policy decisions, and that the public is more fully aware of the knowledge and data that are produced by federal scientists that pertains to policymaking.
"The importance of safeguarding scientific integrity within our federal government cannot be overstated.1 Science-informed decisions made by executive agencies have direct impacts on all of our lives. Whether those decisions are determining how safe or clean our waters are to drink, or our air to breathe, or whether certain species are deserving greater protections under law, four fundamental principles should be embraced:
1. Decisions should be fully informed by (but not dictated by) science;
2. Scientists working for and advising the government should be unobstructed in providing scientific evidence to inform the decision-making process;
3. The public should have reasonable access to scientific information to be able to understand the evidentiary basis of public policy decisions; and
4. The public and
Scientific Integrity at the
"Political interference in science during the George W. Bush administration penetrated deeply into the culture and practices at the
"For example, during the
"Through interviewing various sources, including FWS employees and senior officials, and reviewing pertinent documents and e-mails, we confirmed that MacDonald has been heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping the
"While we discovered no illegal activity on her part, we did determine that MacDonald disclosed nonpublic information to private sector sources, including the
"As the Inspector General noted, it was not illegal for a senior political appointee to manipulate the work of federal government experts. No protections existed for federal government scientists to defend the integrity of their work. And while scientific integrity policies have since been developed within Interior that address this kind of malfeasance, they lack the authority of law and could be rescinded at any moment.
"Abuses of science at Interior, of course, were not simply done by one bad apple. UCS documented more than two dozen examples of political interreference in science during the George W. Bush administration. For example:
* The southwest regional director of the
* In several cases, the Minerals Management Service excluded or directed its scientists to exclude analyses that found harm to wildlife from oil exploration activities. In a
* Political interference by
* Six leading ecologists who were appointed to a scientific advisory panel by the
* High ranking officials from the
* Agency officials knowingly used flawed science in the agency's assessment of the endangered
"It is important to note that some of these abuses are direct (censorship and manipulation) and some are systemic (changes in how scientific assessments are done related to endangered species).
Development of Scientific Integrity Policies
"The DOI scientific integrity policy and manual that was subsequently developed was one of the best in government. Notably, DOI was only department to report out results of investigations into losses of scientific integrity.
"In 2016, responding to concerns expressed by external scientists, the USFWS revised its peer review policy for endangered seis ac listing decision. The new policy improved transparency, strengthened the guidelines for dealing with conflicts of interest and made a clear separation of the Scientific advice and policy recommendations. In fact overall the new policy was clearer and responsive to scientist concerns.
"One of the major problems was how peer reviewers were chosen and how their advice was subsequently treated by the agency. When decisions are controversial it is important to carry forward the nuance of concerns, not just a thumbs up or down approach. To be sure, more improvements are still needed, including most importantly ensuring there is accountability for adhering to strong peer review guidelines. Most endangered species decisions are controversial, but it must be borne in mind that the Act is the last opportunity to halt species extinctions. Losing a species from this earth is never trivial and conservation efforts deserve our best science.
Attacks on Science under
"The erosion of scientific integrity in government has hit a fever pitch in the last two years. Barely a week goes by without hearing of scientists who are prevented from sharing their expertise with the public, or analytic work that is censored, or experts who are prevented from communicating with
"Recently, several former
"We all rely on federal scientists -- and we need to be able to trust that we're getting the best available science.
"But there's a problem here: Federal scientists often face political pressure that undermines their research and their ability to share it with the public. Political leaders have buried critical reports, keeping the public in the dark about real threats. They have prevented scientists from publishing their research or attending scientific conferences. They have disciplined scientists for talking about their findings to journalists.
"Scientific integrity can be compromised by political censorship, manipulation, and/or intimidation. Here are some examples from the 20 attacks at the
* In an effort to censor science around adaptation to climate change, and in direct contrast to instructions from
* A proposal from the
* In 2017, scientists at the
* In a two-year period, the
* Two National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) studies were halted in mid-course for the first time in NASEM's 150 year history. One was requested by Appalachian states to better understand the impact on drinking water of mountaintop removal mining. The other was investigating how to improve safety of offshore oil and gas development as recommended by a
* DOI officials removed climate change references from the press release of a
* DOI blocked
* Fish and Wildlife Services rushed a scientific assessment of the American burying beetle reportedly to avoid disrupting agribusiness. Two biologists left the project, feeling like they were being forced to do shoddy science.
* The superintendent of
* Government scientists from the
"Even worse are policies and practices that structurally sideline science from policymaking, from limiting the types of science that can inform decisions to political review of scientific grants to the elimination or compromising of science advisory committees. These include:
* Restricting the science that agencies can consider to only those studies where all raw data and computer code is publicly available, precluding using information that appropriately should be kept confidential (e.g. health records, endangered species location information). This restriction on science is supposedly to improve transparency but that is a false justification. Making information publicly available is laudable but rarely is it necessary to make raw data available for a study to be understandable and carefully scrutinized. I review dozens of papers for academic journals and do not review the raw data. But requiring raw data disclosure really restricts the ability of agencies to use the best information. And in particular it prevents the use of population level studies that can be vitally important to address public health, safety and environmental threats across the Department's bureaus Indian Affairs, Land Management to Fish and Wildlife. A similar proposal at
* Reducing by fiat the number of expert advisory panels agencies rely on, and favoring regulated industry interests over independent experts on those panels.
* Altering the consideration of costs and benefits to downweight public benefits, thereby calling into question the appropriateness of certain regulations, and misusing the very concept of cost/benefit analysis.
* Arbitrarily restricting the length and timeframe for NEPA analyses regardless of the amount of scientific information needed, as well as circumventing the NEPA process depriving the public of the consideration of options and the information that supports different policy alternatives.
* DOI directed political appointees to begin reviewing discretionary grants to make sure that they align with Trump administration priorities. The discretionary grants include any grants worth
"I want to be clear. We don't highlight attacks on science t- protect" scientists. I am not concerned that my feelings will be hurt or that controversy is not appropriate and real. I worked with fishermen for many years - and they can be, you might say, direct. I can take the heat and so can many of my colleagues. But censorship and manipulation of results is inappropriate use of our work, and most importantly, in bad policies.
"As a decision maker in government in my previous positions at
Surveys of Scientists Demonstrate Sustained Challenges
"Since 2005, the
"The results of the survey12 provided evidence of political interference in the science policy process at many federal agencies. At some agencies, the situation for scientists is worse than it was during the Bush or Obama administrations.
"Scientists reported high levels of censorship and self-censorship:
* 631 respondents (18 percent) at agencies that work on climate change agreed or strongly agreed that they had been asked to omit the phrase "climate change" from their work.
* 798 respondents (20 percent) reported that they had been asked or told to avoid work on specific scientific topics because they are politically contentious.
* 1040 respondents (26 percent) reported that they had avoided working on certain scientific topics or using certain scientific terms because they are politically contentious, though they were not told explicitly to avoid them.
"From the 2018 federal scientists' survey13:
* NPS: 168 respondents (76 percent) felt that consideration of political interests is a burden to scientific decision making.
- I've been told to avoid scientific work that might link environmental problems with the actions of
- Industry is given power to direct policy involving regulations or scientific conclusions (and opinions based on the science) that would affect them, thus providing outcomes that benefit them. This comes at the cost of our agencies ability to accomplish our mission for the American public and natural resources we are entrusted to manage and conserve."
* FWS: 235 respondents (69 percent) noted the level of consideration of political interests as a burden to science-based decision-making.
* FWS: 213 respondents (59 percent) felt that the effectiveness of the office decreased compared with one year ago, and 210 respondents (58 percent) said personal job satisfaction decreased.
* NPS: 55 respondents (26 percent) reported avoiding working on climate change or using the phrase "climate change" even when not explicitly told to do so.
- There has definitely been a chill on climate research and climate change awareness," said an NPS scientist. "Although there have been few published prohibitions to point to, there is uncertainty about what forms of retaliation might take place if the powers-that-be are unhappy with you."
- Consistent removal of references to climate change have hindered our ability to have honest discussions about the potential threats associated with climate change to the National Park System."
- Management refused permission to publish a (successfully) peer-reviewed report for fear of political repercussions."
* FWS: 101 respondents (30 percent) reported being asked to omit certain politically contentious words from their scientific work products.
- We are being told not to use the words 'climate change' in any memos that require clearance, and press releases are not being approved. This really hinders our ability to communicate with the public and lowers morale."
* NPS scientist: "The constant attacks on science and facts by the current administration has negatively impacted scientists in the agency. Effects range from anger and frustration to depression and even opting to retire early. Twenty-five years of experience with 3 federal agencies and I've never seen anything like this--it is appalling."
* From the
* From the
(Note that percentages vary because not every respondent answered every question)
"Science has been the engine which has driven prosperity in this country since its founding. There is no model of an effective democracy in which the best and brightest scientific minds either elect to keep their work to themselves for fear of reprisal, or, are muzzled by a frightened government unwilling to accept their findings.
The Scientific Integrity Act
"The Scientific Integrity Act introduced by Rep.
"Putting such legislation in place is vital because current policies, including the
"The legislation prohibits any employee from manipulating or misrepresenting scientific findings.14 On issues from endangered species to toxic chemical contamination to worker safety, political appointees have personally made changes to scientific documents (or ordered that changes be made) in order to justify action or lack of action on public health and environmental threats.
"The legislation helps ensure that government communication of science is accurate by giving scientists the right of last review over materials that rely primarily on their research. It also gives scientists the right to correct official materials that misrepresent their work. This provision makes it less likely that federal agencies will put out inaccurate information, either intentionally or inadvertently.
"The legislation ensures that scientists can carry out their research--and share it with the public--without fear of political pressure or retaliation. It enables scientists to talk about their research in public, with reporters, in scientific journals, and at scientific conferences. The bill empowers federal scientists to share their personal opinions as informed experts, but only in an individual capacity, not as government representatives. This is essential due to the amount of censorship and self-censorship that has been documented on issues from climate change to food safety.
"The legislation requires agencies to devote resources to designate scientific integrity officers and provide federal employees with appropriate training to help prevent misconduct. Some agencies have developed policies that have no enforcement mechanisms, rendering them virtually meaningless.
"The legislation would not empower scientists to speak for their agency on policy matters. It would not enable scientists to circumvent the agency leadership with regard to policy decisions. It would be clearly applied to expressing views with regard to their scientific expertise.
"Not all attacks on science are matters of scientific integrity. Policy decisions that fail to consider scientific evidence are just that and harm our nation. But allowing scientists to be free from censorship, manipulation of their results or intimidation would go a long way toward improving the decision process. And pushing back on other attempts to sideline science from policymaking is also important for accountability, public trust, and the overall strength of environmental and public health decisions.
* * *
1 Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking, Goldman, Reed, Halpern, Johnson, Berman, Kothari, Rosenberg,
4 Attacks on Science tracker, UCS Staff - https://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/attacks-on-science
5 Abuses of Science: Case Studies, UCS Staff, 2009 - https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/center-science-and-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/abuses-science-case-studies
6 Silencing Science Tracker - http://columbiaclimatelaw.com/resources/silencing-science-tracker/
7 Scientific integrity is crumbling under Trump,
8 Science Under Siege at the
9 Scientists Find Serious Flaws in Proposal to Delist Endangered
10 A List of Scientific Organizations That Have Supported and Opposed Limiting What Research
12 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Results of Our 2018
13 2018 Federal Scientists Survey FAQ - https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/center-science-and-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/2018-federal-scientists-survey
14 Attacks on Public Health and Safety that the Scientific Integrity Act Could Have Prevented, Dr.