Government scientists face pressure, constraints on research: report

April 8, 2010

Scientists who work for the government face pressures from industry, interest groups, political ideology and bureaucratic procedures that can influence the work they do, according to a new report from the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services. OSHA administrator David Michaels, who taught at the university before joining the agency, contributed to the research project prior to his confirmation and is listed as a report author.

Strengthening Science in Government: Advancing Science in the Public's Interest (.pdf file) suggests government scientists may be expected to advocate for official agency positions and may be barred from issuing conclusions or analyses that do not conform with an agency's stance.

For example, NIOSH scientists say their papers are subject to review by affected government agencies, industry and labor, causing three- to six-month delays. Other NIOSH scientists described in the report how changing administrations can lead to a change of priorities that removes funding for or halts former "high-profile" research projects that have been ongoing for years.

The report provided several recommendations, including that agencies should establish common policies that minimize "inappropriate" influence and reduce the bureaucracy in initiating new research.