OSTP Slips Gag Rule into Model Scientific Integrity Policy

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Monday, January 30, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028


OSTP Slips Gag Rule into Model Scientific Integrity Policy

Scientists Prohibited from Policy Recommendations in Presenting Research


Washington, DC —Buried inside a White House “Model Scientific Integrity Policy” issued this month is a bar against any federal scientist making or publishing any statements “that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on,” any federal policy without permission. If adopted, that restriction would censor a broad range of federal research and undercut the model’s stated purposes of promoting transparency and “free flow of scientific information,” according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

On January 12, 2023, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a “Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice” containing a model scientific integrity policy that all federal agencies are urged to emulate. Ironically, in the section entitled “Ensuring the Free Flow of Scientific Information” is this provision:

“[AGENCY] scientists shall refrain from making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on, [AGENCY] or any other Federal Government policy, unless they have secured appropriate prior approval to do so. Such communications shall remain within the bounds of their scientific or technological findings, unless specifically otherwise authorized.”

It is apparently based upon a similar provision in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s scientific integrity policy. USDA has used that provision to order a staff entomologist to remove his name from a peer-reviewed journal article on how monoculture farming reduces diversity in insect populations, limiting beneficial pollinators. That same provision was cited to the scientist as the basis for barring him from speaking at a conference about the effects on pollinators from genetically modified crops and the insecticides used to treat them. He later resigned in frustration.

“This restriction on discussing the implications of research has no place in a scientific integrity policy.” Declared Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch. “Typically, it is only scientific research that has policy implications that is at risk of suppression or political manipulation.”

In a letter to the OSTP Director advocating the removal of that provision of its Model Policy, PEER points out that it can be used to punish scientists or stifle controversial research, such as –

    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research showing that toxic PFAS or other pollutants are migrating off of military bases due to inadequate controls;
    • Centers for Disease Control research showing that dangerous viruses and other pathogens are at risk of release from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wildlife research laboratories due to the absence of independent biosafety reviews; or
    • USGS research showing that water degradation is caused by overgrazing the Bureau of Land Management permits on its livestock allotments or that fish mutations can be traced to a lack of EPA regulation of endocrine disrupters entering waterways.

In addition, PEER argues that such a prohibition is unconstitutional as applied to government scientists speaking or writing as private citizens, since the public interest in the issue would almost always outweigh any potential disruption of efficient government operations.

“Besides being unconstitutional, this prohibition serves no discernible public purpose,” added Ruch, noting that the OSTP policy as written arguably requires that the scientist must have permission not only from their own agency but also from the agency whose policy is commented upon, a daunting task indeed. “Government scientists should not need to cast a profile in courage to openly discuss the implications of their research.”


Read the PEER letter to OSTP Director

Look at the OSTP Scientific Integrity Framework (see page 32)

View how similar USDA policy was used to censor

See other problems with OSTP approach to scientific integrity

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