Endangered Science?

Staff Writer

A survey of scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reveals that many report experiencing political pressure to alter scientific information and analyses about endangered species. The activists who conducted the survey argue that such pressure is compromising the ability of the agency to protect wildlife and habitat.

In late November, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) mailed a questionnaire to 1410 biologists, ecologists, and other USFWS researchers working in field offices across the country, and 414 responded. Among the findings:

* 44% of the 293 respondents who work on endangered species said they "have been directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making ... findings that are protective of species." In written comments, some respondents traced the pressure to political appointees at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the USFWS.

* 20% of all respondents said they have been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from a USFWS scientific document." And 19% had "been directed by USFWS decision makers to provide incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading information to the public, media, or elected officials."

* 42% reported that they could not publicly discuss "concerns about the biological needs of species and habitats without fear of retaliation."

* 71% of scientists who responded did not "trust USFWS decision makers to make decisions that will protect species and habitats."

"The pressure to alter scientific results for political purposes has become widespread," says Suzanne Shaw of UCS. Scientists responded anonymously, and the survey did not contain specific examples of political pressure or altered results. USFWS declined to comment.

UCS and PEER say that whistleblower laws should be expanded to protect researchers who report breaches of scientific ethics.

Related sites
UCS Web page with survey and results
UCS Web page with alleged examples of political pressure

Posted in Policy, Environment