Social Security’s Slapdash Scientific Integrity Plan

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Monday, February 26, 2024
 Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

Social Security’s Slapdash Scientific Integrity Plan

New Draft Policy Puts Restrictions on But Has No Protections for Scientists


Washington, DC — The Social Security Administration (SSA) has spent the past three years crafting a scientific integrity policy that will not do its employees any good because the procedures needed to implement and enforce it have yet to be written, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition, the draft policy forbids SSA scientists from publicly discussing “the policy implications of their work.”

Shortly after his inauguration, President Biden directed all federal agencies to strengthen their scientific integrity policies to Trump-proof their research work. Now, more than three years later, several draft policies have emerged. They are all notable for what they lack: the means to file, investigate, or adjudicate allegations of political interference or other scientific misconduct. Without these and other rules, these new policies are simply rhetorical window-dressing.

SSA’s draft policy, which is open for public comment through today, declares that “procedures addressing scientific integrity concerns, handling differing scientific opinions, clearance of scientific products, scientific communications…and other topics as needed…shall be completed within one year of the release of this policy.” It has not been disclosed whether those procedures will be written in secret or made available for employee and/or public review before they are finalized.

“These policies are like icing without a cake; there is no substance,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that none of the nine agency draft policies unveiled thus far contain anything likely to “Trump-proof” science from political tampering beyond pre-existing policies. “What have these agencies been doing for the past three years?”

While they lack tangible protections, some draft policies, such as SSA’s, feature bans against scientists “making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on, SSA or any other Federal Government policy…” The SSA draft further directs scientists to refrain from “describing the policy implications of their work…”

“These gag orders have no place in a scientific integrity policy,” added Ruch, noting the irony that they are in policy sections devoted to promoting the “free flow of scientific information.” “Scientists should not risk discipline for discussing the policy implications of their research.”

PEER has been forcefully arguing that these constraints on policy implications constitute political interference in science. They currently exist only in the scientific integrity policy for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where they have been used by agribusiness to squelch research papers that raise implications that the industry does not like.

As these policies unfold, they differ by agency in what scientists will be allowed to say or write. However, none of these drafts identify what problem these restrictions are intended to solve.


Read the PEER comments

View SSA’s draft scientific integrity policy

Examine EPA’s toothless policy draft

See conflicting agency speech provisions

Look at dangerous emerging scientific gag orders

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