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Interior Department enacts policy to protect scientists

By

Margaret Coulombe

Arizona State University’s James Collins, a Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and Environment in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, was quoted in the “Federal Eye”, a column written by reporter Ed O’Keefe for the Washington Post. The February article focused on science policy decisions being made in the U.S. Interior Department in Washington, D. C.

According to O’Keefe, the department has just become the “first federal entity to set rules that would protect scientific information and the people who create it from political interference.” The article notes that this move has earned praise from outside groups who have long alleged that “top political officials regularly manipulate or misinterpret scientific data.”

The Post piece quotes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as saying that the new scientific integrity policy applies to the department's 67,000 employees as well as its contractors, grant recipients and volunteers when they analyze or share scientific information with reporters and the public or use the department's information to make policy or regulatory decisions.

The changes "sets forth clear expectations for all employees - political and career - to uphold the principles of scientific integrity, and establishes a process for impartial review of alleged breaches of those principles," Salazar said in a statement quoted by the Post.

The policy details new whistleblower protections, and says workers may share their findings with reporters without manipulation by public affairs officials. Department employees are also encouraged to work with professional organizations and societies so long as they don't create conflicts of interest.

Collins, who is also the president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, was quoted as crediting “the department for incorporating the recommendations of outside groups and for applying the new rules equally to career and political officials.”

"Federal scientists are often leaders in their fields. Science benefits when they are able to fully participate in their professional communities," Collins said. Collins' research centers on the analysis of host-pathogen biology and the global decline of amphibians. He has served as the assistant director for biological sciences for the National Science Foundation, is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Women in Science. In addition, Collins has received the Distinguished Faculty Award and the Gary Krahenbuhl Difference-Maker Award awarded by ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.