PRESS RELEASE

Scientific Transparency Policies Should Be Uniform  

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For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Scientific Transparency Policies Should Be Uniform

Agency-by-Agency Approach Undercuts Press Access and Freedom to Publish

Washington, DC — Despite Biden administration promises of scientific transparency, federal agencies today have greater discretion to withhold scientific research from public view than ever before, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Moreover, the agency-by-agency approach currently being pursued to revamp federal scientific integrity policies may mean even more restrictions on media access, scientists’ ability to publish, and the public release of federal research data.

Just days after his inauguration, President Biden commissioned a Scientific Integrity Task Force to reform agency practices.  Composed of agency officials, the Task Force appears committed to continued reliance on an agency-specific approach, which the PEER analysis concludes –

  • Gives rise to scientific gag orders on controversial topics and restrictions on scientists’ ability to seek publication of research results without official approval;
  • Favors bans on direct reporter contacts with scientists; and
  • Allows increased levels of secrecy shrouding research results.

“The current scientific integrity policies do not ensure scientific transparency, and, in some cases, result in just the opposite,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, questioning why scientists in one agency should not have greater freedom than their colleagues in other agencies. “Achieving scientific transparency will require government-wide guarantees that scientists can speak and publish free from the political leashes wielded by agency overseers.”

PEER cites the inherent bureaucratic desire to control information as giving rise to the need for government-wide policies issued from the White House. The PEER analysis cites examples of anti-transparency provisions buried within current agency-specific scientific integrity policies.  In addition, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision buttresses the ability of agencies to withhold the release of research by keeping it locked up in “draft” form.

“Transparency is the indispensable antidote to political manipulation and suppression of science,” added Whitehouse, noting that the composition of the new Scientific Integrity Task Force is current agency officials.  “Asking the very officials who have for years perpetuated transparency restrictions to suddenly transform into agents of reform is somewhat problematic.  That is why we need definitive White House guidance on transparency.”

The Biden Scientific Integrity Task Force is now accepting public input through July 28th.

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Read the PEER scientific transparency analysis.

Look at USDA’s ban on publishing research papers with policy implications

View EPA’s struggles with media access

Examine differing agency policies on what is allowed in the administrative record

See new restrictions on the release of scientific research under FOIA

Revisit PEER’s submissions to White House Scientific Integrity Task Force