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Research Integrity

Biden issues new scientific integrity guidelines

Executive order calls for a review of integrity policies and ensures use of evidence at all agencies

by Andrea Widener
January 28, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 4

 

On Jan. 27, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at restoring the use of evidence and preventing political interference in government policy making.

“We will protect our world-class scientists from political interference and ensure they can think, research, and speak freely and directly to me, the vice president, and the American people,” Biden said before signing the order.

The order, which builds on scientific integrity policies issued under former president Barack Obama, puts the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in charge of ensuring that all agencies have robust scientific integrity policies. Biden’s nominee to lead the OSTP is Eric Lander.

The order also creates a task force to review US federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies and identify instances where they failed to prevent political interference. Making sure agencies educate scientists about integrity policies and communicate scientific results to the media and the public is also part of the task force’s charge. The task force must issue a report on agency strengths and weaknesses, as well as suggestions for improvement, within 120 days of its creation. In response to that report, agencies must update their scientific integrity policies and submit them to the OSTP for review. They are then required to publish the policies and educate their employees on them.

In addition, the order says agencies must review their plans for evidence-based policy making, including developing best practices for data sharing. They are required to identify a career civil service employee as their chief science officer in charge of scientific integrity and evidence-based decision-making. And they must examine their use of outside scientific experts, such as by advisory committees, to ensure they include qualified and diverse experts.

The Donald J. Trump administration had routinely gone against scientific advice, most notably in the Environmental Protection Agency. “The previous administration undermined science at least 189 times, downplaying risks, concealing evidence from the public, and gutting federal scientific capacity,” Andrew A. Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists says in a statement. “We need a new direction—and with today’s executive actions, President Biden and his team are acknowledging the important role that science should play in solving the very real problems we face.”

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