|On January 11, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the report of its Scientific Integrity Fast-Track Action Committee, a group created by President Biden charged with identifying ways the federal government at all levels can preserve the accuracy and objectivity of science and protect government science from suppression, manipulation, and political interference. The report was developed in response to a 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking, which COSSA has been reporting on and that aligns with COSSA’s recommendations to the Biden Administration delivered in late 2020.
The Committee conducted a review of existing federal agency scientific integrity policies and identified “good practices” for improving implementation. Among the report’s findings include the following:
- All major science agencies already have in place scientific integrity policies; however, they may need to be strengthened to “deter undue influence in the conduct, management, communication, and use of science.” This is particularly important for agency leaders at the highest levels who set an example to either enable or undermine scientific integrity policies.
- In addition to protecting science from undue influence, scientific integrity policies must also foster “the appropriate and transparent use of science in decision-making.” To this end, the report calls on all federal agencies that conduct, manage, communicate, or use science in decision-making develop policies and institutionalize scientific integrity practices, not just “science agencies”.
- Greater attention is needed on scientific integrity training for the extramural (outside government) research community. This could include, where appropriate, requiring training as part of the terms of a grant or contract.
Among the many “good practices” identified in the report for federal agencies to consider adopting include:
- Fostering an organizational culture of scientific integrity within every agency starting at the top and reinforced by training of agency staff.
- Encouraging continued professional development of federal scientists, including by allowing federal employees to participate in scientific conferences.
- Building collaborative relationships between government scientists and agency communications staff to foster effective and transparent communication of scientific information to decision-makers, the media, and the public.
- Limiting the review of government science products by non-scientific staff to ensure that changes by non-scientific staff (e.g., policy or communications staff) do not alter scientific results. In addition, federal agencies need to clearly differentiate between scientific results and agency positions and policy.
- Creating clear procedures for reporting violations or concerns and ensuring whistleblower protections.
As outlined in the 2021 memorandum, the Committee will now turn to developing “a framework to support regular assessment and iterative improvement of agency scientific integrity policies.” The full report is available on the White House website.