Scientific Integrity Policies.. Unintended Consequences?

Like so many things, “scientific integrity” sounds good. But as I pointed out in some posts on Roger Pielke, Jr.’s blog a while back, good public policy is never built on a foundation of fuzzy concepts. Here are the posts: A Policy Practitioner Deconstructs the Science Integrity Guidelines- The President’s Memo, I. and More Deconstruction of “Science Integrity”: The President’s Memo Principles.

So after much ado, including easily hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars worth of the usual DC kinds of work- involving meetings, discussing things, drafting documents, editing, and multiple levels of review, we have the situation described today in Roger’s blog here about the Interior Dept. Nothing could have been more predictable, IMHO. Of course, a good scientific dispute is the most fun way to learn about science!

Here’s the end of Roger’s post:

Who decides what information should and should not be included? Who gets to second guess agency policy makers and the press office on what information should be included or not included? I testified on this issue in 2007 before the House Government Reform Committee during the period when the Bush Administration received similar criticisms (here in PDF). At the time I wrote:

[N]o information management policy can ever hope to eliminate political considerations in the preparation of government reports with scientific content
The issues remain much the same today under a different administration. Even though the political context has changed, the underlying dynamics have not.

The Houser case will likely prompt some additional thinking about these issues and what it means to try to regulate or otherwise manage the scientific content of agency information. I suspect that eventually agencies will have to accept the reality that in many if not most cases the proper place for debate over agency decisions and communications is simply in the broader political arena as part of ongoing policy debate.

As it stands, the DOI scientific integrity policy may foreshadow ever more disputes over science between career government employees and political appointees, and perhaps even a further politicization of agency science. This is probably not the outcome expected or desired by the Obama Administration when putting forward a call for agency integrity guidelines.

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