There’s been a lot of talk recently about how science, scientists, and science communicators should strive to keep science apolitical. But that’s hardly possible when science is under increasing attack from politicians.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been at the center of several stories in the last few days after the Trump administration first froze its research grants, and then announced its intention to "review" whether to remove the EPA's website pages relating to climate change.
The Associated Press (AP) has now broken the story that EPA scientific studies will have to undergo review by political staff before public release. It has been clarified by Doug Ericksen, communication director for the transition team at the EPA, that the administration is scrutinizing studies and data already published by the EPA, and new work is under a “temporary hold”.
In the AP interview, he stated that the restriction was the same imposed on any kind of new release and that it will be lifted on Friday. However, this scrutiny, which hopefully is temporary, has troubled many as political interference infringes on the scientific integrity of the agency.
Scrutiny is a tenant of science but it requires transparency and expertise. This is why peer-review, while not perfect, is the crucial step in the scientific discourse. The first hurdle for a scientist's research to be discussed publically is for people in their field to check the validity of their results.
But peer-review is a mid-point, not a destination. Peer-reviewed papers are often argued over and their claims are put to the test again and again. It is in the public interest, that a paper is discussed widely as soon as it is peer-reviewed.
The EPA has stated that its Scientific Integrity Policy: “Ensures scientific findings are generated and disseminated in a timely and transparent manner”, highlighting how scientific integrity is necessary to build public support.
With the EPA being crucial to the fight against global warming, which is probably the greatest challenge humanity is facing, public trust and support are very much needed.
[H/T: Associated Press]