Blog: Protecting Scientific Integrity Would Help Public Health

The Scientific Integrity Act, introduced last week in the House and Senate, would require federal agencies that fund, conduct, or oversee scientific research to establish scientific integrity policies and processes to enforce them. The bill states that federal employees and contractors involved with scientific work must not “engage in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, coercive manipulation, or other scientific or research misconduct” or “suppress, alter, interfere with, or otherwise impede the timely release and communication of, scientific or technical findings.”

It’s important to put these requirements into law and ensure that agencies can enforce them because we’ve seen many instances of federal agencies misrepresenting or suppressing science under the Trump administration. These include the Department of Health and Human Services mischaracterizing evidence on contraception and unintended pregnancy; National Park Services officials attempting to remove references to humans’ role in climate change from a report on how rising sea levels will affect parks; and the Environmental Protecting Agency delaying release of a toxicological profile of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases and other sites.

The bill also spells out the rights of federal scientists to disseminate their research, review agency public statements’ about their findings for accuracy, and speak with the media about their work (read more about its provisions here).

In order to solve public health problems like climate change, we need to be able to learn from federal scientists and trust what they produce. The Scientific Integrity Act would be an important step toward that goal.

Liz Borkowski, MPH is the managing editor of Women's Health Issues, the peer-reviewed journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health, and a researcher in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Her areas of expertise include reproductive health and US healthcare policy affecting women's health. 

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