Scientists at some federal agencies are saying that politics and industry pressure influence the quality and scope of their research to a significant degree. 46 percent of the study’s participants said that political interests hindered their ability to work, and much of the work they had done was about creating relationships with lawmakers rather than advancing public health.
The study collected responses from the CDC, FDA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A significant number of scientists reported that political interests at their agencies were given too much weight in their agencies,” wrote Gretchen Goldman, author of the report.
The relationships between science and pressure is being investigated now as a result of the Scientist Statement on Scientific Integrity’s release, in which at least 60 scientists condemned misuse of science in the creation of new policies, namely Vice President Dick Cheney’s editing of reports on global warming.
Though some mandates specify that any coercion by a public relations official on a scientist is forbidden, not everyone knows such mandates exist. And those that do don’t necessarily have any faith in them—less than 20% of close to 1,500 survey participants said they were unaware that their employers had to use the mandates.
One scientist even said that integrity the scientific industry could only be preserved if agencies stopped giving in to political pressure when making scientific decisions.
The study suggests that there are a few things that can be done to improve the efficacy of the scientific community and free them from political pressure. The White House needs to take a stronger leadership role and promote government-wide scientific integrity standards, primarily; but the CDC, FDA, and NOAA should follow suit with integrity policies of their own.
Additionally, journalists as well as the public should name and call out any company that obstructs transparency and integrity in decision-making. More work is necessary in emancipating science from the powerful grip of political burdens, but the statistics released in the study are terrifying—and hopefully motivating.