The Transparency Challenge for Scientific Integrity Policies

A few items from the Columbia Journalism Review give additional insight on one aspect of the scientific integrity policies currently out or pending from federal agencies – how press officers and agency scientists act with the press.  Among other things, the survey cited of science, health and medical journalists reinforces the notion that troubles with getting access to government science (and scientists) does not really change much between administrations.

While this is still a political problem, it is not the kind of political problem that lends itself to linkage to one party over another.  Any administration seeks to minimize embarrassment and depending on how their bureaucracies are structured and staffed, the default position could be one of minimal information dissemination (apparently the position of the Office of Science and Technology chief spokesman, at least where the Columbia Journalism Review is involved), or one of engagement (something closer to the attitude of the Health and Human Services spokesman involved in these pieces, or the Department of Commerce).

That said, it should be noted that for all the interagency variety in approaching information access for the press, no agency invited to discuss transparency with the press opted to show, and all but one opted to respond in person.  Even for those agencies with staff and/or processes that may be friendly to allowing access to agency scientists, there isn’t necessarily a lot of interest or attention in making this happen.  That’s left to us, for better and for worse.

What might this mean for whatever comes out of the December 17 deadline in scientific integrity policy formation?  Aside from policy language that addresses access to government scientists, the issue of monitoring performance and compliance of these policies will rely on how transparent the agencies are about their activities.  Brush up on the Freedom of Information Act, as you may be prompted to file a request in the future.