Obama administration issues science guidelines at last

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 17, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday released its long-delayed scientific integrity guidelines, intended to ban political interference in science.

President Barack Obama campaigned on scientific integrity after scientists and others complained that Bush administration officials distorted scientific work and limited access to information on a variety of issues ranging from climate change to lead poisoning and mountaintop removal mining.

Shortly after Obama took office, he issued a memorandum in March 2009 calling for scientific integrity guidelines. He gave John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, until that July, but the deadline kept slipping until Friday.

Holdren's four-page memo set out principles that would ensure openness in how scientific facts are used to guide government policies. The first in his list of requirements was that government agencies don't suppress or alter scientific findings.

Another requirement called for the free flow of scientific information. The guidelines also singled out a need to select candidates for scientific positions in the government "based primarily on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience and integrity."

It's now up to the government agencies to develop policies that put the principles into practice.

For example, the directive said that government scientists could speak to reporters and the public about their work "with appropriate coordination with their immediate supervisor and their public affairs officer." It didn't give details about what this coordination would entail.

The president's science adviser, writing on the White House blog on Friday, didn't say why it took so much time to release the guidelines. While his directive was new, he wrote, "Scientific integrity has been a White House priority since Day One of this administration."

The president's 2009 memorandum noted that science guided many government decisions, "including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change and protection of national security."

It went on to say: "The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions."

Francesca Grifo, a scientist and the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists integrity program, said the new document contained strong statements that would require big changes in government agencies. Still, it remains to be seen how the agencies implement the guidelines, she said. "We will be watching them every step of the way."

ON THE WEB

Holdren statement Friday on White House blog, with link to his directive

Presidential memorandum of March 9, 2009, about scientific integrity

A guide for all ages by U.S. scientists: "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science"

National Research Council report on the science of climate change

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