Scientific integrity in the US Govt? You must be joking
Date Added to website 26th June 2015
Scientific integrity in the US Govt? You must be joking......
article was published in April, and shows how the promises of
"scientific integrity" in the US administration and its agencies /
regulatory bodies have been comprehensively ignored by President Obama
and everybody else. What we see instead is a further slide in
scientific ethics and an insiduous and growing acceptance of dogma and
pseudo-science instead of proper science. A very sad situation
What Happened to Obama’s Promise to Restore Scientific Integrity?
April 20, 2015
By Jonathan Latham, PhD
Independent Science Newshttp://www.independentsciencenews.org/news/what-happened-to-obamas-promise-to-restore-scientific-integrity/
much every branch of the US government has had trouble implementing
President Obama’s flagship scientific integrity policy. In 2011, the US
Department of the Interior (DOI) appointed the scientist Dr. Paul
Houser to be its first ever Officer of Scientific Integrity. Within a
year he was fired. Believing his dismissal was for drawing attention to
a scientifically questionable Department policy, Houser formally
accused the DOI of “scientific and scholarly misconduct and reprisal.”
But because the Department of the Interior had fired him, they no
longer had a scientific integrity officer for him to complain to.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has had a new scientific integrity
policy since 2013. Despite that policy, the non-profit Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently petitioned USDA saying
that “suppression and alteration of scientific work for political
reasons remain common at USDA” and that agency scientists “routinely
suffer retaliation and harassment” when their work offends agribusiness.
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the worst that had been said
was that, four years after the President’s promise, the agency still
had not hired anyone; plus that its outline for a Scientific Integrity
Plan lacked integrity. But that was before publication of its first
ever Scientific Integrity report.
The President’s promise falters at EPA, too
in November 2009, in his first inaugural address, President Obama
committed again to what had by then become a major and much-discussed
campaign promise: to “restore science to its rightful place”.
Presidential promise followed a series of Bush era government scandals,
such as letting Vice-President Dick Cheney’s staff edit global warming
reports. The scandals showed repeated attempts by business lobbies, and
the Federal Government itself, to obstruct and distort scientific
policy-making, scientific data, and scientific advice.
President’s chosen method to “restore science” was to create officers
of scientific integrity at federal agencies and government departments.
These officers would investigate all complaints relating to scientific
integrity, whether from insiders or outsiders.
after delays even more lengthy than at other agencies, EPA finally
appointed Dr Francesca Grifo, formerly of the scientific integrity
programme of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Grifo thus became the
inaugural EPA Official of Scientific Integrity (ScIO) and also the
Obama integrity appointee with the highest profile and expectations.
was an event of unreported but considerable interest therefore, when
Grifo and her assistant last month published the EPA’s first ever
annual Report on Scientific Integrity.
The Integrity Report
was very revealing. It showed, firstly, that EPA’s new ScIO dismissed,
without any investigation, 23 of the 40 complaints received in its
first full year of operation.
The reason given for the 23
dismissals is that they were anonymous. All but one of these 23
anonymous complaints were from EPA staff.
Of the 17
remaining complaints, 3 were passed to other EPA offices, again without
investigation. Ten are in an unspecified “inquiry phase”. EPA’s
Scientific Integrity Officer has therefore resolved just three of the
40 cases submitted to it. These are all described as “minor.” One was
resolved and dismissed. The fate of the remaining two is unknown since
they are not described in the report.
Responsibility for integrity at EPA
EPA, Grifo and her assistant are supposed to work with a new committee,
comprising existing EPA officials from all of its functional
departments and regional offices. A result of this arrangement,
however, is that Grifo’s independent powers are limited.
2014 report describes for the first time the protocol Grifo developed
for handling complaints. It makes clear that the rerouting by her
office of allegations (i.e. those not already dismissed for being made
anonymously) to other EPA offices, without performing any
investigation, is a policy:
“If the allegation concerns
waste, fraud, or abuse or other criminal violations, the allegation
would be referred to the OIG (Office of the Inspector General). If the
allegation involves reprisal, it would be referred to the OIG or the
Office of Special Counsel. If the allegation concerns a financial
conflict of interest or other ethics issue involving federal employees
it would go to the appropriate Deputy Ethics Official or Office of
General Counsel/Ethics, or Human Subjects Research Review Official, as
This leaves Dr. Grifo with only those “lapses
of scientific integrity” that have no broader (i.e. ethical or
criminal) implications. These include cases of scientific authorship,
censorship and peer review.
But even if an integrity
complaint were to be substantiated by the new ScIO, the most that Grifo
and her “review team” can do is write a “recommendation report.” This
is because Grifo, the report also reveals, has no authority to
determine sanctions. Any “administrative and or corrective action is
determined by the direct line supervisor or other manager.” This is
allegedly to protect the rights of EPA employees.
Ruch, Executive Director of the public accountability nonprofit PEER,
the new report lacks sufficient information and transparency, which in
turn reflects long term problems at EPA:
“From the EPA
scientists who come through our door we hear tales of suppression,
arbitrary decision-making and reprisal.” Yet, says Ruch, “EPA never
admits that it has scientific integrity issues of any kind that need
correction or improvement, thus the policies are presented as sort of
As Dr Grifo said (when she was
head of UCS’s scientific integrity program) about the firing of Paul
Houser from the DOI “I have to say, this doesn’t smell right.”
EPA whistleblower, William Sanjour, who is an advisor to the National
Whistleblower Center told Independent Science News that:
Office of Scientific Integrity is just another EPA public relations
office designed to give the impression that the people can influence
the agency. Without a specific mandate from Congress this office has no
such authority and is only there to give the public and EPA staff the
false impression that it has the power to change things. Its real
function is to keep complaints from going outside the government’s
Allison Wilson, Science Director of The Bioscience Resource Project, sees a yet more worrisome implication:
president has made strong statements about the importance of scientific
integrity, which we agree with. But if actions speak louder than words
then President Obama cares no more about scientific integrity than did
his predecessor. Vast sums of money are spent on science, but no one
wants to take simple steps to ensure its independence. That’s a scary
thought. Science absolutely requires independence and integrity.
Without them science ceases to be science. It becomes a tool to
Correction (10:31am, Mon 20th): An
earlier version of this report stated that: “Of the 17 remaining
complaints, 14 were passed to other EPA offices, again without
investigation. EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer has therefore
investigated just three of the 40 cases submitted to it. These are all
described as “minor.” One was resolved and dismissed. The fate of the
remaining two is unknown since they are not elaborated on in the
report.” The version in the main text is now correct.
Additional comment from the author:
April 22, 2015 at 1:55 pm
There should be no doubt that EPA has a culture of reprisal and scientific suppression, as this press release makes clear:http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/2015/04/21/egregious-epa-misconduct-delivers-whistleblower-win/
According to the judge, EPA:
and failed miserably, over an extended course of time in complying with
its discovery obligations and…Court discovery orders”;
“fraud on the Court” through numerous “false claims” and inaccurate
claims of privilege which upon examination applied to “none of the
documents provided” (Emphasis in original); and
Deliberately and illegally destroyed an unknown number of documents which should have been under a litigation hold.
And much more.