CSLDF and the Government Accountability Project Launch New Scientific Integrity Reporting Project

Today, the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and Government Accountability Project launched the Scientific Integrity Reporting Project: a confidential, anonymous way for scientists and others in science-adjacent roles to detail their experiences involving past and ongoing threats to scientific norms and scientific integrity.

We plan to draw upon the stories participants share with us to produce a report to inform policymakers about how to better protect science in the future. Expert attorneys from both organizations will also be available to provide legal advice and potential representation to those who contact us. This may involve offering advice to scientists about their rights and options in specific scenarios or helping scientists file a formal whistleblower complaint or take other legal action as appropriate.

We are joined by a select group of partners who are also committed to protecting and improving scientific integrity in a variety of disciplines: the American Geophysical Union, Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

The politicization of science undermines public trust in critical scientific institutions, and has devastating consequences for public health and safety. The tragic fallout from the Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic vividly illustrates this, but unfortunately there have been numerous other examples, ranging from political interference with the release of scientific studies related to renewable energy to diverting hundreds of millions of dollars intended to fund scientific research.

This kind of interference with the conduct of sound and objective science also contributes to poor morale and makes it more difficult for affected institutions to recruit and retain talented scientists. Nor, importantly, are these issues limited to one presidential administration or one political party. They have occurred under Democratic administrations as well as Republican.

The Biden administration is taking laudable steps to assess the weaknesses of agency scientific integrity policies via the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and there are also efforts underway at individual agencies to assess scientific integrity violations that occurred under Trump.

We believe this Scientific Integrity Reporting Project will provide a necessary and important complement to these processes. In addition to providing scientists with additional confidentiality safeguards, we hope our efforts will produce a broader range of responses. Current initiatives appear to focus on the Trump and Obama administrations; we are interested in examples extending both further back and further forward in time to better understand long-term and current issues. We are also explicitly seeking to include grantees, contractors, and others employed outside the federal government who may be aware of a wider range of scientific integrity violations.

Only by fully understanding the scope of the violations of scientific integrity that have occurred in the past, and the mechanisms by which they were effectuated, can we hope to truly make federal science resilient to these kinds of threats in the future. We hope that many of those who have witnessed or experienced such wrongdoing will bravely come forward and share their stories with us.

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