EPA Employees Pan State of Scientific Integrity
Many in New Survey Report Misconduct, Retaliation, and Feelings of Futility
Washington, DC – A new survey of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists reflects deeply dim views about interference with science and the effectiveness of the agency’s scientific integrity policy, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). High numbers of respondents reported inappropriate alteration of scientific work, intimidation from both superiors and industry, fear of retaliation for speaking out, and an abiding lack of confidence that misconduct will be addressed.
EPA administered the survey in mid-May of this year and 2,668 scientists responded. Numeric responses to multiple-choice questions were finally posted yesterday in response to a PEER Freedom of Information Act request but answers to open-ended survey questions will not be available until next year, according to agency officials.
These summary results paint a dark picture of life inside EPA, including findings such as –
- More than half of responding scientists (56%) felt unable “to do their work knowing they are “protected from intimidation or coercion to alter scientific data or findings”
- “More than a third (36.1%) reported that their scientific findings, products, or conclusions were “altered or suppressed”; and
- Nearly half (48.7%) felt unable to “openly express my scientific opinions about the Agency’s scientific work without fear of retaliation.”
“These survey results depict an EPA where politics routinely tramples science with no rescue in sight,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, expressing doubts that the state of scientific integrity has improved since the 2020 election pointing to nearly two-thirds (65.3%) of scientists who said their “level of satisfaction with the culture of scientific integrity” had not changed. “The Biden EPA has been big on rhetoric but short on any follow-through.”
EPA scientists expressed acute dissatisfaction with how its Scientific Integrity program operates. Nearly half (49.0%) said in their experience the agency’s scientific integrity staff was not helpful and had better results going to either their union or outside groups. The biggest reason scientists (70.7%) gave for not coming forward is fear “my confidentiality will not be protected.” They also felt strongly (66.8%) that “nothing will change” by reporting scientific misconduct.
“This summer PEER submitted a copy of a confidential scientific integrity complaint to a senior EPA official and the scientists’ confidentiality was breached within five minutes,” noted PEER Scientific Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Moreover, nothing has changed after this detailed, documented complaint: not a single responsible manager was even reprimanded while dangerous politicized alteration of science continues.”
In January President Biden commissioned a Scientific Integrity Task Force, but that effort is already behind schedule and has yet to indicate what level of reform it will recommend.