Keystone Report Provides Comprehensive Bias and Review Suggestions For Science Advisory Bodies

The occasionally organized effort in the U.S. to establish ‘scientific integrity’ policies for government decision making has focused on agency decision making.  But another aspect of this challenge, one that has attracted some attention in the U.K., involves scientific advisory bodies.  Building on the 2009 report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Keystone Center released a report today with extensive recommendations for science advisory bodies (H/T ScienceInsider).  The recommendations involved assessing and managing conflicts on interest on these committees, and best practices for scientific review for policymaking purposes.

Arguably this report is really just a listing of very detailed recommendations more than an argument to take specific actions.  It was prepared through a series of plenary and small group meetings with many people who have experience with scientific advisory bodies.  And consistent with the report’s encouragement of strong transparency practices, chief sponsors of the report include the American Chemistry Council, the Regulatory and Safety Evaluation Specialty Section of the Society of Toxicology, The Union of Concerned Scientists, and the American Chemical Society.  The prevalence of societies focused on chemical regulations may inform the specifics of the recommendations, but I think they can be generalized to other scientific fields.

Oddly enough, one of the recommendations that jumped out at me is taken verbatim from the Bipartisan Policy Center report:

“An eventual goal would be to make it standard practice for scientists to have a public curriculum vitae (CV) that included all their relevant employment, research support, publications, speaking, testimony, etc. Such a CV would provide much of the information sought on government disclosure forms. Many scientists already post their CV on their websites, and standardizing and expanding this practice would be part of creating a culture of disclosure that would be responsive to, and relevant for more than requirements for service on government committees. Re-gardless of whether they have such a CV, scientists should be far more attentive to the need to disclose financial relationships and professional activities, including the need to disclose any that develop during service on an advisory committee. But federal agencies must also do their own research on potential committee mem-bers; they should not rely exclusively on self-disclosure.”

Aside from the recommendations (which, for a pro-transparency, pro-disclosure fellow like me, seem pretty common sense), there’s a very useful appendix which compares conflicts of interest guidelines from various U.S. and International bodies. I’d encourage readers to take a look through the report, and check to see if their favorite advisory bodies are following the recommendations for conflicts of interest management and scientific review.  While many are doing well, we all could do better.

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