CPSC Scientific Integrity Plan Has a Screw Loose

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Monday, November 27, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

CPSC Scientific Integrity Plan Has a Screw Loose

Consumer Product Safety Commission Seeks to Muzzle Its Researchers


Washington, DC —The federal agency charged with developing regulations to protect consumers from unsafe products wants to prevent its researchers from commenting on the adequacy of current safety regulations or recommending new ones, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If finalized, this restriction within the Scientific Integrity Policy proposed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) may severely hamper the scientific work needed to strengthen consumer safety.

As if to underline its centrality, the draft CPSC policy repeats the following prohibition three times in its one-page section entitled “Safeguarding the Free Flow of Scientific Information”:

“CPSC staff must not make or publish statements that might be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on, CPSC or any other Federal Government policy, unless they have secured appropriate prior approval to do so.”

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s mission is to evaluate the effectiveness of current rules on everything from sparklers to space heaters. Barring its technical staff from commenting on these issues makes no sense, and to do so in the name of scientific integrity is downright bizarre,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to how similar language in the U.S. Department of Agriculture policy has been used to block publication of papers on topics such as insecticides’ impacts on pollinator health, due to objections from agribusiness. “As we have seen, this language will be used as a tool by industry to suppress scientific work it does not like.”

Unveiled on October 8 and open for public comment through December 4, CPSC is the third federal agency to produce a draft scientific integrity policy under a Biden-directed initiative to Trump-proof government science, following proposals from Health & Human Service and the National Institutes of Health. All three draft policies, as well as the White House “Model Policy” issued earlier this year, contain this same prohibition against scientists making statements that “could be construed as” judgments or recommendations on any federal policy.

Apart from this one provision, the CPSC draft does not contain specific rules on much of anything else, including how allegations of scientific misconduct will be handled, what information about these cases will be disclosed, and the process for clearing scientific research for publication. Instead, the draft indicates that all these specifics will be developed later.

“This proposal is not a coherent policy but a promise to develop a policy later. It is not close to being ready for review,” added Ruch, pointing out the intent of the Biden effort was to “Trump-proof” federal science from overt political manipulation. “Rather than strengthening protections for scientific integrity, these Biden-era policies are a major step backward – they facilitate scientific suppression and offer not a single meaningful protection against political interference.”


Read the PEER comments

View the draft CPSC policy

Look at the range of CPSC research

Compare similar HHS and NIH proposals

Examine the implications of the Biden-sponsored gag order

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