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White House ‘Science Integrity' Report Explicitly Includes Federal Statistical Agencies

By Steve Pierson posted 02-07-2022 15:55


The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released in January, 2022 the report, “Protecting the Integrity of Government Science,” which the White House characterized as a response to the President’s January 2021 Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. The report covers broadly science across the federal government, including content specific to government statistics: “Federal statistical agencies, such as the Census Bureau, must protect against interference in their efforts to create and release data that provide a set of common facts to inform policymakers, researchers, and the public.”

The report identifies 11 principles that “will guide OSTP’s ongoing assessment and coordination of Federal scientific integrity policy,” including six from identified by the Obama Administration in 2009. (See image Box 2-3 at end of post.) The five additional principles are these:

  1. “All Federal agencies—not just those that fund and conduct scientific research—should develop, implement, and periodically update scientific integrity policies…
  2. “Scientific integrity policies should apply to all those in Federal agencies who manage, communicate, or use science, not just to scientists and engineers who conduct research, and not just to career employees, but contractors and political appointees as well…
  3. “Scientific integrity policies should be modernized to address important, emergent issues of our time. They must advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; address new concerns arising from the use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning; and apply to emerging modes of science, such as citizen science and community-engaged research with Federal involvement.
  4. “There should be broader dissemination and adoption of good scientific integrity practices across the Federal Government, a task that could be facilitated by more formalized interagency collaboration.
  5. “There should be widespread training for agency scientists so they can communicate scientific findings effectively to nonscientists in their agencies and to lay audiences, with the idea of helping ensure that policies and actions are based on an accurate understanding of the science.”

The White House highlighted three findings from the report:

  1. While violations of scientific integrity are small in number compared to the magnitude of the Federal Government’s scientific enterprise, they can significantly undermine Federal decision-making and public trust in science.
  2. Existing Federal scientific integrity policies are responsive to previous Executive actions but need to be strengthened to better deter inappropriate influence in the conduct, management, communication, and use of science.  
  3. Supporting scientific integrity requires attention to other policy areas, including greater transparency into research processes and outputs; clear guidelines for data and information that agencies release; and policies that promote safe, equitable workplaces free from harassment and discrimination.

Along with the Hurricane Dorian forecast in 2019, the 2020 decennial census was spotlighted as an example of how the violation of scientific integrity can undermine decision making and public trust in science. The image below is Box 2-2 from the report, which is introduced as follows:

policymaking requires consideration of factors beyond scientific data alone. Difficulties arise when the distinctions between research and decision-making are unclear, poorly understood, or ignored. This can occur when decision-makers distort, mischaracterize, or suppress scientific and technical research results that conflict with desired policy directions, or when they interfere in the research process to obtain desired results (see Box 2-2)

Per recommendation #1 above, agencies seem to have started updating their scientific integrity policies. See, for example, this Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) statement, which lists as one of the signers the “HHS Statistical Official” (i.e., NCHS Director Brian Moyer):

The OSTP concluded its announcement of the new report stating it “will draw upon the findings of the Task Force to develop a plan for the regular assessment and iterative improvement of scientific-integrity policies and practices.”

The report was written the OSTP Scientific Integrity Fast-Track Action Committee (SI-FTAC), which included in its membership the US Census Bureau’s Ron Jarmin.