In a July 28 teleconference hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to discuss NOAA’s Draft Scientific Integrity Policy, agency representatives acknowledged that the draft policy needs further development in order to safeguard agency scientists against perceived barriers to communicating freely with the media and the public, and to provide needed protections for whistleblowers. Comments from listeners generally praised NOAA’s efforts to ensure quality science and promote a culture of transparency, but some raised key concerns.
Post by Jamal Knight and Rick Piltz
Paul Sandifer, Senior Science Advisor to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, sought to assure Climate Science Watch and other listeners that NOAA’s draft policy is sufficiently protective of scientists’ free speech rights. “We prefer to err on the side of the scientists in letting them speak freely, and worry less about moving into policy," he said. "However, [when scientists] knowingly move out of the scientific results and into policy discussions, the speaker must express that they are stating personal opinions.”
After NOAA Assistant Administrator Larry Robinson concluded his overview presentation, Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists scientific integrity program, complimented NOAA’s efforts before pointing out additional concerns with the draft policy. “I’m worried that there might be some confusion and inconsistency with this policy, which may not allow agency scientists to fully take advantage of their free speech opportunity,” she said. “When discussing research results or presenting written materials for presentation … the line between policy and science can be blurry.”
Dr. Robinson stated that NOAA will be carefully monitoring this process, and that all comments received from the scientific community will receive due consideration. The draft policy will continue to evolve. To assist its continued development, NOAA will keep accepting comments electronically even after the official comment period ends on August 20.
The need to strengthen whistleblower protections, and the question of how NOAA will enforce the current protections in the policy, remain quite unresolved. Climate Science Watch regards this as a key issue. Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, pointed out that NOAA’s draft policy provides no real protections, because it fails to rely on any enforceable law to protect potential whistleblowers.
Paul Sandifer, the NOAA science adviser, acknowledged that the language in the policy may not be as explicit as it needs to be. He said NOAA will continue to work with appropriate workforce management staff on the whistleblower protections provided by the policy
The goal of NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Policy is to promote a culture of transparency, integrity, and ethical behavior. NOAA’s legal expert agreed there still remains work to be done in order for this policy to provide the safeguards needed in order to achieve this goal.
Full text of NOAA Draft Scientific Integrity Policy for public review and comment
NOAA Scientific Integrity webpage with instructions for public comment. The Draft Scientific Integrity Policy is available for public review and comment until August 20, 2011.
Union of Concerned Scientists webpage on NOAA Scientific Integrity Policy