Only nine days after the end of the comment period on the US Department of Interior’s proposed policy on scientific integrity, Secretary Ken Salazar has issued a memo that appears to address some of the issues raised by critics and recently reported in Nature. The memo orders the development of a new policy that “must clearly direct that DOI employees, political and career, must never suppress or alter, without new scientific or technological evidence, scientific or technological findings or conclusions. Further, employees will not be coerced to alter or censure scientific findings, and employees will be protected if they uncover and report scientific misconduct by career or political staff.”
This is pertinent at DOI because in 2007, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Julie Macdonald resigned after it came to light that she had reversed the conclusions of rulings under the Endangered Species Act while editing documents authored by field staff. The proposed policy was criticized as inadequate to prevent similar abuses because it said that that the editing of technical documents by “decision-makers” was exempt from its remit.
“There are still a lot of details to be worked out but if agency rules reflect the spirit of this order, then government science will be much more transparent and trustworthy,” says Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, in a press release.
PEER also speculates that this order will have a government-wide impact. To date the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is more than a year delayed in following up on Barack Obama’s 2009 memo on scientific integrity. But today’s memo says that the new DOI policy will be consistent with OSTP “2010 guidance,” suggesting that OSTP is working on the problem from behind-the-scenes.