In the latest (February 21) edition of Science, editor-in-chief Marcia McNutt, former head of the U.S. Geological Survey under President Obama, has an editorial (free, with registration) on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that the U.S. government has not yet decided to pursue (or not). McNutt, in a reversal of her previous position, believes it should be approved. Her rationale hinges on the capability of the U.S. government to extract concessions from the pipeline owners and manufacturers to ensure better environmental safety than transporting the oil via rail and truck.
McNutt is more than entitled to her opinion on the matter, as well as her own criteria for choosing the way that she has. But I’m not sure this had any business being aired in the pages of Science.
My recollection of Science editorials is hardly comprehensive (especially since I am not a subscriber). But I find it difficult to see why the pipeline extension is worthy editorial fodder for Science, certainly with how this editorial is written.
Science editorials have certainly been political, and have certainly made policy recommendations in the past. I’ve even supported a scientific journal making a recommendation for political office – provided it was open and transparent about what it was doing.
But in all of these matters (again, based on the editorials I have read), there was some connection to the specific interests of the journal, its publishers, its readers, or the relevant scientific communities.
I don’t see any such connection in this editorial.
McNutt’s editorial is written from her individual perspective (the number of times I is used in the piece stood out for me). Nothing in the editorial reflects her position as editor-in-chief nor concerns specific to the journal or its publisher, AAAS. Her reasons for supporting the extension are conditioned on successfully obtaining concessions from the pipeline owners and manufacturers – a policy process that may have very little to do with relevant science.
Certainly an editor is expected to have some influence on the perspective of the publication she edits. But that perspective should be connected to the mission of the journal or the interests of its readers. Many readers of Science may agree with McNutt. But I doubt that has anything to do with their membership in AAAS or interests in science and technology.