USDA Scientist Punished for Pollinator Research
Whistleblower Complaint Highlights Official Obstruction of Pesticide Studies
Washington, DC — One of the top entomologists within the U.S. Department of Agriculture is fighting a suspension for publishing research about adverse effects on monarch butterflies from widely-used neonicotinoid insecticides (or “neonics”). He is also being punished for a travel paperwork irregularity for when he made an appearance before a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. His legal challenge is in the form of a whistleblower complaint filed on his behalf today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is a Senior Research Entomologist and Lab Supervisor for the USDA Agriculture Research Service based in South Dakota. His cutting-edge research has drawn national attention and international recognition. He has worked for USDA for eleven years with great success—until recently.
On August 3, 2015, the USDA imposed a 14-day (reduced from 30 days) suspension on him in connection with two events:
- Publication of a manuscript by Dr. Lundgren on the non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies in the scientific peer-reviewed journal The Science of Nature; and
- An error in Dr. Lundgren’s travel authorization for his invited presentation to a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as to a USDA stakeholder group.
“Having research published in prestigious journals and being invited to present before the National Academy of Sciences should be sources of official pride, not punishment,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais, who today filed Dr. Lundgren’s whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board, the federal civil service tribunal. “Politics inside USDA have made entomology a high risk specialty.”
Lundgren’s suspension followed his lodging a formal complaint last fall of violations of the agency’s Scientific Integrity policies. His complaint detailed attempts by USDA managers to block publication of new research, bar discussion of results with the media, and disrupt his lab’s operations. The agency initially rejected his complaint as not meriting an investigation. His appeal of that decision is still pending.
“It is USDA policy that political suppression and manipulation of science are not to be tolerated, but it is empty rhetoric,” Dumais added, noting that USDA is refusing to even consider a PEER petition that it strengthen its Scientific Integrity policy by adopting provisions from the similar policies of sister agencies. “Dr. Lundgren is suffering the proverbial professional death by a thousand cuts precisely because of the implications his scientific work for agribusiness.”
Dr. Lundgren’s whistleblower complaint triggers sworn depositions and other discovery leading up to an evidentiary hearing. The resulting ruling can be appealed to the three-member Merits Systems Protection Board and from there to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.