Gag the scientists, shutter the libraries

by Revere, cross-posted at Effect Measure

The Bush Administration hates science. Science is reality-based and some truths are politically inconvenient. But there are things that can be done. Like this:

The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. (John Heilprin, AP)

It’s not what you think, the Bushies say. They are just trying to insure sound science and anyway, it’s what scientists do anyway: peer review and it alerts the agency to new science.

“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 have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow.”

Improving product flow.

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.”

Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director until September, said Wednesday that the new procedures would improve scientists’ accountability and “harmonize” the review process. He said they are intended to maintain scientists’ neutrality.

I’m an Editor in Chief of a peer reviewed scientific journal. I don’t think we need the expert eyes of the USGS “communications office” to help us. And this new policy goes beyond prior peer review, requiring scientists to make the peer reviewers’ comments available to USGS supervisors. I understand the desire of public agencies to insure that the opinions of individual scientists are not confused and entangled with policy positions of the US government, which entail more than science (don’t we know!). But there is a simple remedy and it has been used by many federal agencies. All publications from EPA scientists, for example, carry a disclaimer at the bottom of the first page saying the views expressed are those of the authors and not those of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Of course sometimes science that contradicts policy does get out from under the Administration’s thumb, so the logical next step is to close the libraries. Oh, wait, they’ve already done that:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is frantically dispersing its library collections to preempt Congressional intervention, according to internal emails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contrary to promises by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock that all of the former library materials will be made available electronically, vast troves of unique technical reports and analyses will remain indefinitely inaccessible.

Meanwhile, many materials formerly held by the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters, were directed to be thrown into trash bins, according to reports received by PEER. This month, EPA closed the OPPTS Library, its only specialized library for research on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides, without notice to either the public or affected scientists. (PEER Press Release, November 20, 2006)

Well, we’re in the paperless age, anyway. At least they’ll be available electronically:

In defiance of Congressional requests to immediately halt closures of library collections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is purging records from its library websites, making them unavailable to both agency scientists and outside researchers, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of its shuttered libraries, including the hurried auctioning off of expensive bookcases, cabinets, microfiche readers and other equipment for less than a penny on the dollar. (PEER Press Release, December 7, 2006)

Oh. Never mind.

Comments

  1. #1 Luis Vazquez
    December 19, 2006

    I’m shocked!, shocked!! that there is gambling going on in Rick’s American Cafe…

    This does not surprise me, this action on the part of a deperate regime intent on destroying institutional knowledge. All of this is further evidence that the US has entered a very dark age indeed. It will take generations to recoup from this mess.

    As soon as the other dysfunctional political party is sworn in, the least they could do is to hold whoever made these decisions at EPA in contempt of congress. Then they should mandate that the EPA libraries be reconstituted, digitized, and made totally and publicly available. One day of Iraq quagmire funding ought to cover it.