Today we published three additional guides in our series examining federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies. Our new guides cover the policies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Department of State.
We created guides for these three agencies because each one conducts, funds, or relies on scientific research. They all provide crucial information to the public and formulate policy. And they are all involved, to some degree, with climate research or climate policy.
There are also cases of political interference and science being sidelined at each of them.
- In April 2020, NIH pulled funding for a multi-year research project involving a collaboration between a U.S. non-profit and China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology to study coronaviruses in bats. NIH apparently withdrew funding in response to pressure from President Trump.
- References to climate change were omitted and removed from scientific reports at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the DHS. In December 2019, a FEMA report evaluating the adequacy of emergency response plans for natural disasters and other hazards failed to mention climate change, although previous versions did.
- In June 2019, the White House prevented a Department of State scientist from submitting written testimony to Congress regarding the threats posed by climate change.
Troubling events like these illustrate why federal agencies must have strong cultures of scientific integrity undergirded by comprehensive and well-enforced internal policies.
Until that happens—and we’re fighting for it—our guides are here to help scientists at federal agencies understand the practical aspects of how the policies are structured. Researchers should know who must abide by a policy, what constitutes a violation of scientific integrity, who can make a scientific integrity complaint, and what to expect once a complaint is filed.
The guides can also help scientists understand the strengths and weaknesses of their agencies’ policy. For example, the DHS policy has a clear definition of scientific integrity that prohibits political interference, but it doesn’t consider research misconduct a violation of scientific integrity.
NIH scientists should be aware that, while the NIH policy has relatively strong protections for the right to publish research, the policy fails to protect against political interference.
The Department of State policy uses stronger language and considers political interference in research to be a violation of scientific integrity. But the policy doesn’t have guidance for scientists on the process for the filing, investigation, or resolution of a scientific integrity complaint.
Scientists at these agencies—and others who use scientific information in agency decision-making—can use the guides to understand how their workplace scientific integrity policy may apply to certain situations. The guides also reveal how the policies can be used as tools to address misconduct and strengthen their agency’s culture of scientific integrity.
Researchers with questions about scientific integrity can reach out to us for a free, confidential consultation: write to email@example.com.