President Obama issued a memorandum yesterday about scientific integrity in federal executive offices. The memo calls for the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to conduct a review of the scientific integrity of the executive branch, including policies to ensure thorough scientific review, unbiased scientific reporting, the retention of scientific staff based on credentials and public access to scientific findings.
An excerpt from the memo:
“The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.”
The memo comes on the heels of the president signing an executive order releasing federal funds for stem cell research.
This memo should be reassuring to the scientific community. Yet the fact that it was necessary to explicitly state these seemingly obvious expectations is disconcerting. A useful product of this review would be to delineate the instances in which scientific information is used — which is not outlined in the memorandum. Scientific information can have all the integrity in the world, but if it’s not used in policy decisions, then what good is it to the administration?