The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology had a hearing on scientific integrity on Wednesday, during which its members discussed ways to prevent the manipulation and suppression of scientific findings produced by government scientists.
Several Democrats on the committee spoke in support of House Bill 1709, the Scientific Integrity Act. This legislation, an amendment to the America COMPETES Act of 2007, would codify policies to prevent censorship and alteration of scientific findings produced by federal science agencies.
U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., chairwoman of the research and technology subcommittee, called H.R. 1709 “a set of principles” that prohibits federal employees who conduct research from suppressing, altering or interfering with the timely release of scientific findings and delineates specific mechanisms for those scientists to use when disseminating their work.
The bill, first introduced in the House in March by New York Democrat Paul Tonko, also mandates that federal science agencies develop and enforce scientific integrity policies and appoint a dedicated career scientific integrity officer.
Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado’s environmental studies program who specializes in science policy, testified that the bill is a good start but does little to address “detrimental research practices” by scientists, such as failure to provide raw data and manipulation of statistics in their published work. He said that such forms of scientific misconduct should be considered when addressing the larger issue of scientific integrity.
The bill has 192 co-sponsors, none of whom is a Republican.
Although recent committee hearings have mostly been nonpartisan, tensions flared throughout the two-hour session. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., expressed disappointment with how the hearing was managed, saying that the Republican “committee staff were first notified of this hearing when they were copied on the witness invitation. There was no phone call, no email, zero conversation, and no bipartisan deliberation.”
Several Democrats on the committee denounced President Donald Trump’s administration for engaging in suppression and manipulation of scientific findings, especially at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., chairwoman of the subcommittee on investigations and oversight, specifically mentioned the EPA’s recent decision to stall the release of chemical assessments and its effects on human health. Sherrill said that “this kind of activity is exactly why robust scientific integrity policies are needed.”
However, both Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed that it is important to protect scientific integrity and ensure that policymakers cannot manipulate or suppress scientific findings.
Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., warned that “everyone wants science to be on their side.”
Norman said that “we must ensure integrity in both scientific and political processes. We should refrain from using science to score political points.”
Although many federal science agencies have scientific integrity policies in place to prevent suppression of findings, the practice still takes place.
John Neumann, managing director of the science, technology assessment, and analytics team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, discussed the office’s recent report on federal scientific integrity policies. He pointed out that the Department of Energy does not have a scientific integrity official, documented procedures to address violations of scientific integrity policies, or systems that monitor or evaluate its existing integrity policies.
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, testified that, because these policies are not law, federal agencies can rescind scientific integrity policies and remove scientific integrity officers with no recourse. Plus, there is uneven implementation of these policies across agencies, with few mechanisms to deal with violations of these policies. Halpern suggested that H.R. 1709 could be a path forward to improve scientific integrity at federal agencies.
However, the science committee has yet to vote on the bill. Even if it passes in the House, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate may not take up the bill.