Obama Directive Called "Sea Change" for Scientific Integrity

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

President Barack Obama's directive today to his science adviser to "restore scientific integrity to government decision-making" is a culmination of a long campaign by science advocacy groups against the policies of the Bush Administration. None of them was more active than the Union of Concerned Scientists, which produced its first report on "the politicization of science" in 2004 and which helped make scientific integrity an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The issue was never partisan, insists Kurt Gottfried, chair of UCS and a physicist at Cornell University. "We took for granted that there was a code of behavior under which science operates, but what we've seen for the past 8 years is a breaking of that unwritten code," he told ScienceInsider. "Even his father [George H. W. Bush] ran a very clean shop. There have always been problems, but it was never systematic until the [George W.] Bush Administration."

Obama's directive that his Office of Science and Technology Policy draw up guidelines "to guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch" is probably an overstatement, says Gottfried. "Nobody can guarantee such behavior," he says. "But it certainly sends a very clear message that the president expects scientific integrity to be upheld and that OSTP will be monitoring it closely. That's a sea change from the previous Administration."

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