A process President Biden launched during his first week in office aims to ensure all agencies adopt scientific integrity policies that prohibit improper political interference in scientific research and prevent the suppression or distortion of scientific information. After an inter-agency working group developed a framework for scientific integrity policies, agencies have begun producing draft policies for public comment.
Eleven organizations submitted comments to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about the NIH draft policy. The comment praises NIH for assigning efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion to high-level officials, but highlights reports indicating NIH investigations into grantees’ spending and disclosures have led to the profiling and silencing of Asian American scientists and the chilling of collaboration between scientists in the US and China. The comment to NIH also includes a recommendation that has appeared in other comments scientific integrity advocates have made to the White House Office of Scientific and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services: That the agency remove a requirement that scientists “refrain from making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on, [agency] or any other Federal Government policy.” Such a broad prohibition is open to abuse by bad-faith actors, who could claim to “construe” factual statements as judgments, and it risks making scientists decide that it’s easier to avoid speaking at all than to risk having their statements interpreted as policy recommendations.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) noted that the draft scientific integrity policy from the Consumer Products Safety Commission not only contains that problematic prohibition, but does so in multiple places. PEER’s comment recommends that CPSC remove the provision.