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Freedom to speak in government agencies: the Union of Concerned Scientists Reports October 19, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary, Press Release.
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Scientists who work for Federal government agencies should be able to tell us, the general public, about their research. But they haven’t always been able to do so freely during this administration. We all remember the case of James Hansen, the NASA climate change expert whose attempts to speak freely were heavily censored by political appointees.
Following up on their work to preserve scientific integrity, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) researched free access to the media for scientists in 15 government agencies. They published their report card recently and it looks like this–very mixed.

They looked at freedom to speak to the media along two dimensions: policy, which means a written published statement setting out the agency’s guidelines for communication with the media; and practice, which means what agency scientists experienced, as reported to UCS researchers through surveys and interviews.   Looked at along this dimensions, even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) isn’t completely satisfactory–it gets an “A” for policy, but practice needs improvement. The worst is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and two agencies get “Incompletes” in the policy department, although the National Science Foundation is “outstanding” in allowing its scientists free access to the media in practice.

In general, the UCS concludes, agencies that employ scientists need a change to a culture of openness.  The public needs to know what scientists find in their research and what it means for public policy.

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