Has President Barack Obama pulled off his pledge to boost integrity in government science, as he promised a year ago?
A new study  (see p. 89) says yes and no. The small but in-depth survey, which polled scientists who currently or used to work for various federal agencies, suggests that not much has changed when it comes to accessing data, reviewing potential research, clearing papers for publication, and communicating with the public.
A half dozen or so did say their workplace was generally more supportive, and about a third said that their work environment had changed for the better.
The unnamed scientists come from one of five agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. They're part of a broader survey of scientists in government and the pressures they face, conducted by a group at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and released yesterday. Most of those first interviews of 37 participants with experience at 13 agencies were conducted in 2008 before the Presidential election. Given that, the report's authors decided to re-interview 30 of their scientists to see whether a new Administration had made a difference.
One of the authors knows these pressures all too well: Susan Wood, who used to be the head of women's health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and resigned in August 2005 because she believed politics were railroading science in discussions over whether to approve Plan B , an emergency contraceptive, for over-the-counter use in teenagers.
The writers of the report say the reported improvements may be because many believe that "change comes slowly, if at all, to federal agencies," according to the report—a problem exacerbated by tight funding.
UPDATE: The survey results are a "split decision," says Wood, now of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, the study's lead author. There's some improvement, but not dramatic change. That doesn't entirely surprise her. "It really does take time to change large hierarchical institutions," she notes--and a tough funding climate has a dismal effect on morale, too.
- This article has been revised to reflect the number of people interviewed during the Obama Administration.