Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Importance of Scientific Integrity

There is an interesting Commentary piece in the latest issue of American Journal of Public Health entitled "Politics and the Erosion of Federal Scientific Capacity: Restoring Scientific Integrity to Public Health Science" by Kathleen Rest and Michael Halpern. Here is the abstract:

Our nation's health and prosperity are based on a foundation of independent scientific discovery. Yet in recent years, political interference in federal government science has become widespread, threatening this legacy. We explore the ways science has been misused, the attempts to measure the pervasiveness of this problem, and the effects on our long-term capacity to meet today's most complex public health challenges. Good government and a functioning democracy require public policy decisions to be informed by independent science. The scientific and public health communities must speak out to defend taxpayer-funded science from political interference. Encouragingly, both the scientific community and Congress are exploring ways to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking.

And here is a sample from this timely article:

....Recent attempts at political interference can be roughly grouped into 4 types: (1) suppressing, distorting, or otherwise misusing scientific information; (2) controlling federal scientists; (3) limiting public access to scientific information; and (4) changing the way scientific information is incorporated into the decisionmaking process.

....Our country's legacy of scientific innovation and investment has brought us sustained economic progress, sciencebased public health policy, and unequaled scientific leadership across the world. The implications of political interference with science in the context of public policy are significant and serious, threatening not only public health, safety, and the environment but also the government's long-term ability to address these critical issues.

Suppressing, distorting, or otherwise misusing agency science, restricting scientific exchange, and exerting undue control over agency scientists demoralizes our dedicated cadre of government scientists and threatens agency ability to attract and retain top-notch scientists. Likewise, scientists may be increasingly unwilling to serve on federal advisory committees if they feel subject to political screening or believe their hard work and advice will be ignored or misused. Certain controversial research areas could suffer if scientists perceive they are unlikely to be funded because of ideological preferences. All this, in turn, will diminish government capacity to address current and future public and environmental health challenges.

....Our nation's health and prosperity are based on a foundation of independent scientific discovery. The ability of scientists to conduct research, share their results without government interference or censorship, and participate in the policy process is vital to our democracy. Without access to the best available science, elected officials will be unable to make fully informed decisions, placing our health, safety, and environment at risk.