AGU Statement on White House Scientific Integrity Guidelines

21 December 2010

Joint Release

WASHINGTON—The American Geophysical Union applauds federal guidelines in defense of scientific integrity issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy on Friday, 17 December.

“ John Holdren’s memorandum to executive departments and agencies is an important step in restoring scientific integrity in the federal government,” says Michael J. McPhaden, AGU President. “While the Obama administration has always been committed to the use of good science in policy making, this directive will institutionalize a number of needed changes.”

Over the years the scientific community has contended with many controversies involving government scientists and the use of science in formulating federal policies. Most recently these controversies included attempted muzzling of federal government scientists speaking publicly about climate change (e.g., NASA’s James Hansen and NOAA scientists such as Pieter Tans, recipient of the AGU’s 2010 Roger Revelle Medal), rewriting of scientific reports by government bureaucrats to water down conclusions (e.g., the 2003 Environmental Protection Agency assessment of global warming), and using out-of-date, inappropriate scientific information to formulate policies favoring special interests (e.g., Minerals Management Service policies that helped set the stage for the BP Gulf of Mexico oil blowout).

The Holdren memo contains a landmark set of directives. Among the highlights are:

  • Federal scientists’ right to speak to the media and the public about their official work without censorship.
  • Peer review as the standard for the credibility of science when formulating policy.
  • Filling scientific and technical positions with qualified individuals who are first and foremost scientifically and technically competent, rather than because they espouse a particular political ideology.
  • Encouraging public dissemination of scientific information in a balanced and understandable way to promote scientific literacy.

“Economic vitality, national security, public health, and environmental sustainability all depend on making the best use of science in formulating public policy,” says McPhaden. “The OSTP memo on integrity of science in government is an affirmation of the value and relevance of science to modern society and how it can serve the public good.”

The complete statement by AGU President Michael J. McPhaden is available on the AGU Web site.

Additional AGU resources available online:

Eos Interviews John Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, By R. Showstack

White House Issues Scientific Integrity Policies, By R. Showstack

The American Geophysical Union is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization with more than 58,000 members in over 135 countries. The organization advances the Earth and space sciences through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is accessible on the web.