Joint statement on EPA proposed rule and public availability of data (2019) | Science

“Eighteen months after articulating our concerns (1) regarding the 2018 “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2), we have become more concerned in response to recent media coverage and a 13 November hearing on the role of science in decision-making at the EPA. These events suggest that the proposed rule is now moving toward implementation; whether it includes amendments sufficient to address the concerns raised by us and many others remains a question.

Our previous statement on the proposed rule, authored and published by the editors-in-chief of five major scientific journals in May 2018, reflected alarm that the proposal’s push for “transparency” would be used as a mechanism for suppressing the use of relevant scientific evidence in policy-making, including public health regulations. After the public comment period for the proposed rule closed, the EPA reported more than 590,000 comments from individuals and scientific, medical, and legal groups, many of which articulated similar concerns (3).

As leaders of peer-reviewed journals, we support open sharing of research data, but we also recognize the validity of scientific studies that, for confidentiality reasons, cannot indiscriminately share absolutely all data. Datasets featuring personal identifiers—including studies evaluating genomes of thousands of people to characterize medically relevant genetic variants—are but one example. Such data may be critical to developing new drugs or diagnostic tools but cannot be shared openly; even anonymized personal data can be subject to re-identification, and it has been a longstanding practice for agencies and journals to acknowledge the value of data privacy adjustments. The principles of careful data management, as they inform medicine, are just as applicable to data regarding environmental influences on public health. Discounting evidence from the decision-making process on the basis that some data are confidential runs counter to the EPA stated mission “to reduce environmental risks…based on the best available scientific information” (4)….

We urge the EPA to continue to adopt an approach that ensures the data used in decision-making are the best available, which will at times require consideration of peer-reviewed scientific data, not all of which may be open to all members of the public. The most relevant science, vetted through peer review, should inform public policy. Anything less will harm decision-making that claims to protect our health….”

E.P.A. to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules – The New York Times

“The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking….”

The Executive Branch Must Stop Suppressing Science – Scientific American Blog Network

“For much of my time in public service, there were some things government officials did just because they were the right things to do—and that included respecting the research done by government scientists. That respect has faded over recent presidencies. Sharpie-gate may have been its death knell. …

Earlier this year, General Robert Neller, then commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote to the Secretary of the Navy about the damage from storms: “The combat readiness of II Marine Expeditionary Force—1/3 the combat power of the Marine Corps—is degraded and will continue to degrade,” he asserted. We have to be better prepared for the impacts of climate change. But that goal will be impossible if political officials act in bad faith by distorting or suppressing government research on climate science….

 

To help rebuild ethics, integrity and trust in government—including trust in its research and data—I joined a nonpartisan task force of former government officials concerned about the executive branch’s growing disregard for norms and unwritten rules that had formerly kept its power in check. Recently,our group, the National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy—a project of the Brennan Center for Justice—published a report proposing legislation that would effectively respond to the numerous instances we catalogued of federal officials censoring scientific information, changing scientific findings to suit political agendas and retaliating against government scientists because their research was politically inconvenient….”

Ninth Circuit: Courts Can Force Feds to Put Records Online

“In a decision that will expand the power of courts to make government agencies post information online, the Ninth Circuit this week reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the removal of animal welfare compliance data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

“The decision from the Ninth Circuit is a major victory for public advocates using the Freedom of Information Act,” said Christopher Berry, senior staff attorney for plaintiff Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

ALDF and three other groups sued the USDA in 2017 after it abruptly pulled animal welfare compliance data offline, a move the plaintiffs say frustrates their missions to fight animal cruelty and monitor government enforcement.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III dismissed the suit in August 2017, finding courts lack power to force government agencies to make documents available to the public at large, as opposed to individual requesters, under the Freedom of Information Act.

A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel overruled Orrick’s decision Thursday, finding the law authorizes courts to make agencies stop holding back records which they have a duty to make available in “virtual reading rooms” online….”

Ninth Circuit: Courts Can Force Feds to Put Records Online

“In a decision that will expand the power of courts to make government agencies post information online, the Ninth Circuit this week reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the removal of animal welfare compliance data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

“The decision from the Ninth Circuit is a major victory for public advocates using the Freedom of Information Act,” said Christopher Berry, senior staff attorney for plaintiff Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

ALDF and three other groups sued the USDA in 2017 after it abruptly pulled animal welfare compliance data offline, a move the plaintiffs say frustrates their missions to fight animal cruelty and monitor government enforcement.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III dismissed the suit in August 2017, finding courts lack power to force government agencies to make documents available to the public at large, as opposed to individual requesters, under the Freedom of Information Act.

A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel overruled Orrick’s decision Thursday, finding the law authorizes courts to make agencies stop holding back records which they have a duty to make available in “virtual reading rooms” online….”

I’m a scientist. Under Trump I lost my job for refusing to hide climate crisis facts | Maria Caffrey | Opinion | The Guardian

“The Trump administration’s hostility towards climate science is not new. Interior climate staffer Joel Clement’s reassignment and the blocking of intelligence aide Rod Schoonover’s climate testimony, which forced both federal employees to resign in protest, are just two of the innumerable examples. These attempts to suppress climate science can manifest themselves in many ways. It starts with burying important climate reports and becomes something more insidious like stopping climate scientists from doing their jobs. In February 2019, I lost my job because I was a climate scientist in a climate-denying administration. And yet my story is no longer unique.

This is why on 22 July I filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration. But this is not the only part to my story; I will also speak to Congress on 25 July about my treatment and the need for stronger scientific integrity protections….

It was while I was on leave that I received an email from another climate scientist at the NPS who warned me that the senior leadership was ordering changes to my report without my knowledge. They had scrubbed of any mention of the human causes of the climate crisis. This was not normal editorial adjustment. This was climate science denial….

The NPS [National Parks Service] continued to retaliate against me. I was forced to accept pay cuts and demotions while I continued to lead several other projects. By February of this year, the NPS declined to renew my funding, despite common knowledge that my branch at the time had ample surplus funding….”

White House Tried to Stop Climate Science Testimony, Documents Show – The New York Times

The White House tried to stop a State Department senior intelligence analyst from discussing climate science in congressional testimony this week, internal emails and documents show.

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research declined to make changes to the proposed testimony and the analyst, Rod Schoonover, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, was ultimately allowed to speak before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday.

But in a highly unusual move, the White House refused to approve Dr. Schoonover’s written testimony for entry into the permanent Congressional Record. The reasoning, according to a June 4 email seen by The New York Times, was that the science did not match the Trump administration’s views….”

Opinion | The Senate Should Reject Trump’s NOAA Nominee – The New York Times

The safety and economic well-being of Americans will be put at risk if the Senate confirms Barry Lee Myers as the next administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As a nonscientist, Mr. Myers lacks the professional credentials to lead a science-centric agency responsible for daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, climate monitoring, fisheries management, coastal restoration and support for marine commerce.

As the former chief executive of the private weather-forecasting company AccuWeather, which relies on data from NOAA’s National Weather Service, he spent years trying to privatize NOAA’s public weather information so his company could profit from it. His family continues to run the family-owned company, raising concerns that they could benefit from decisions he might make as NOAA’s administrator….”

USDA orders scientists to say published research is ‘preliminary’ – The Washington Post

“Researchers at the Agriculture Department laughed in disbelief last summer when they received a memo about a new requirement: Their finalized, peer-reviewed scientific publications must be labeled “preliminary.”

The July 2018 memo from Chavonda Jacobs-Young, the acting USDA chief scientist, told researchers their reports published in scientific journals must include a statement that reads: “The findings and conclusions in this preliminary publication have not been formally disseminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.” A copy of the memo was obtained by The Washington Post and the USDA confirmed its authenticity.

The disclaimer appears to conflict with the integrity policy that governs research at the USDA, said Susan Offutt, who was the administrator of the Economic Research Service, a USDA statistical agency, under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The claim that reports are not “formally disseminated” runs counter to the USDA policy that “permits and, indeed, encourages researchers to publish in scientific journals,” Offutt said….

William Trenkle, the USDA departmental scientific integrity officer…said in [a public] statement that the department plans to update the disclaimer’s phrasing “in the near future.” …

A successful review and publication is “the end product to your research,” said Gregorich, a scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (the Canadian counterpart to USDA). “It is now finalized. There’s nothing preliminary about it.” …

Before releasing scientific publications, USDA science agencies send them through the department’s Office of Communications. Although the communications office is not supposed to influence a paper’s conclusions, tensions may arise between scientific results and an administration’s agenda, Offutt said….”

 

THE OPEN GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP: FOURTH OPEN GOVERNMENT NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, February 2019

“This roadmap for the next two years outlines a selection of Trump Administration objectives to make government information more open and accessible for developers, academics, entrepreneurs and everyday Americans….

3) Provide Public Access to Federally Funded Research

Primarily through the National Science and Technology Council (Council), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates United States efforts to make the results of Federally funded scientific research more accessible and useful to the public, industry, and the scientific community. In the Council’s Subcommittee on Open Science, thirty-two United States agency funders collaborate to improve the preservation, discoverability, accessibility, and usability of Federally funded scientific research, with the aims of bolstering the reliability of that research, accelerating scientific discovery, stimulating innovation, enhancing economic growth and job creation.

In 2018, the Subcommittee on Open Science was re-chartered to promote open science principles across the Federal Government and increase public access to Federally-funded research results. The Subcommittee’s priorities include: (1) Facilitating coordination across Federal Government agencies on open science efforts; (2) Developing appropriate incentives to encourage researchers to adopt open science principles; (3) Streamlining and synchronizing agency and researcher data management practices for maximum utility to the public; (4) Collaborating with academia, researcher communities, and industry toward the development of research data standards that further open science. As part of the Subcommittee’s objectives, it will develop a report that provides recommendations for improvements to existing Federal open access policies and continued collaboration between agencies on achieving open access objectives….”