Ongoing science suppression?

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2006

An article just posted at Newsvine talks about possible government censorship oversight of scientific findings at the USGS. Basically, scientific results have to be vetted by a committee before they can go public.

At first blush, this doesn't sound so bad. If a scientist publishes some results, the paper will have their name as well as the USGS name on it, so it's not too much to ask that the paper be run through the system first.

But this comes at something of a bad time for scientific publishing by government supported scientists...

"This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way," Barbara Wainman, the agency's director of communications, said Wednesday.

I don't mean to be alarmist, but I've heard this before. I heard it from NASA (try this post from Integrity of Science too), from NOAA, from the EPA, from the FDA. I'd feel better about her statement if there weren't a list a mile long of scientific suppression going on right now that can be traced to the White House. After many such instances, my credulousness is stretched a mite thin...

... especially when, two paragraphs later, the article states

The new requirements state that the USGS's communications office must be "alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature."

The agency's director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told — prior to any submission for publication — "of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed."

If they only want to ensure a single voice and to keep scientists neutral, then it should be applied evenly, don't you think, and not just on sensitive issues -- that is, issues which are reality-based, and therefore contrary to much of what the current government would prefer to hear.

I will say that all of this can very well be innocuous: agencies do need to make sure that scientists don't go off half-cocked and start talking about their results to the public when it's all too easy for those findings to be misunderstood (this is a constant problem in the health industry especially). But again, how many times must our science be stomped upon before we get a little itchy when announcements like this are made?

I'm way past that number. And I itch all over.

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