This week, US President Joe Biden issued a far-reaching memorandum set on “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.” This directive, akin to an executive order, is to prevent "improper political interference" in the work of scientists and to emphasize the use of evidence in policymaking. To support this, President Biden will also sign an executive order re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
“It is the policy of my Administration to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data. Scientific and technological information, data, and evidence are central to the development and iterative improvement of sound policies, and to the delivery of equitable programs, across every area of government. Scientific findings should never be distorted or influenced by political considerations,” Biden stated in the preamble of the memorandum.
The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is given the responsibility of ensuring scientific integrity across all federal agencies. The Biden-Harris administration nominee for this post is mathematician and geneticist Eric Lander, who previously served as co-chair of President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
If confirmed, Lander will convene an interagency task force to review the effectiveness of the various agency and Departments' scientific integrity policies. This review is set to be conducted within 120 days of the appointment of its members and the task force will provide a framework to continuously improve the scientific integrity of federal agencies in both policies and practices.
Changes are also coming to each individual federal agency. If an agency oversees, directs, or funds research then they must designate a Chief Science Officer. Their role is to make sure that any research program is conducted with integrity, scientists and their work are protected, and the prevention of suppression or distortion of data.
The memorandum also tasks agencies with looking into their current Scientific Advisory committees. “Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, heads of agencies shall review their current and future needs for independent scientific and technological advice from Federal advisory committees, commissions, and boards,” section 7 of the directive states. Agencies can also review whether they want to resurrect advisory panels dismantled under President Donald Trump.
Of particular importance, the memorandum calls for the heads of Federal agencies to ensure the current and future members of these committees reflect and represent the diversity seen in America today in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and geography.
As stated in the memo: “Improper political interference in the work of Federal scientists or other scientists who support the work of the Federal Government and in the communication of scientific facts undermines the welfare of the Nation, contributes to systemic inequities and injustices, and violates the trust that the public places in government to best serve its collective interests.”