New Integrity Rules Differ on Allowable Scientist Speech 

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Thursday, February 1, 2024
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

New Integrity Rules Differ on Allowable Scientist Speech

Agencies Range from Bans on Policy Discussion to “Open Discourse” Pledges


Washington, DC — The first eight of a new wave of Biden-era scientific integrity policies are all over the map on what scientists may say or write, according to a review by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A coalition of ten public interest groups, including PEER, is imploring the White House and scientific integrity officials from 24 agencies to “adopt the least restrictive language” to best facilitate “the free flow of scientific information.”

Shortly after his inauguration, President Biden directed all federal agencies doing scientific work to strengthen their scientific integrity policies which had proven useless during the Trump term. Now, more than three years later, the first incarnations of these efforts are emerging.

Notably, none of them contain anything that appears to “Trump-proof” agency science from political tampering beyond pre-existing policies. Disturbingly, some contain directives that scientists must refrain from “making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on [their own] or any other Federal Government policy.”

This stunning gag rule could be used by a future administration to stifle federal research carrying policy implications it did not favor. Of the eight agency policies unveiled thus far –

    • Three draft policies (Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission) all contain the broad prohibition on policy-related comments. In fact, CPSC repeats the ban three times in its 10-page draft policy;
    • The draft policy unveiled this week for public comment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits this restriction on scientist speech to occasions “When speaking or writing on behalf of EPA.” The policy adopted by the Veterans Administration this January contains this same formulation; and
    • The newly adopted policies for the Departments of Homeland Security and Energy contain no such restrictions. The DHS policy, for example, supports “free and open discourse about DHS-sponsored research.” The new Food and Drug Administration policy also lacks this restriction, although it is within HHS, which proposes to impose it.

“There is no reason why a federal scientist in any agency should be prohibited from discussing the policy implications of their research, nor is there any reason different agencies should have different rules on this topic,” declared PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, pointing out this broad gag rule had been endorsed in the “Model Scientific Integrity Policy” issued last April by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The Biden administration may have only a few months to fix a broken scientific integrity process. Above all, it should not make scientific integrity policies weaker by enabling political suppression of research.”


Read the coalition letter

Look at proposed gag rules in HHS, NIH, and CPSC proposals

Compare the modified EPA language (page 17)

View Homeland Security “open discourse” language (page 2)

Examine the case for a unified federal scientific integrity process

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