Use Scientific Advisers and Protect Scientific Data, Joint Society Letter Urges

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In May, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt chose not to renew the terms of nine members of the agency's Board of Scientific Counselors. | Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leading scientific organizations are calling on President Donald Trump and his administration to ensure that an ongoing review of the role of scientific advisory boards is transparent and upholds the integrity of the boards’ science-driven information, and that accurate federal scientific data and information is maintained and made easily available on federal agency websites.

The letter, signed by AAAS and a broad group of scientific organizations, was sent to President Trump and the administration’s agency heads, urging them to follow the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act governing the establishment, operations, scope and termination of scientific advisory committees. It called on the administration to conduct its review “in accord with the democratic principles of governance.”

Advisory committees provide federal agencies scientific information on a broad range of topics in order to inform policy judgements, the letter said. It cautioned that the committees should represent a diversity of viewpoints as they “pertain to scientific and technical competence and disciplinary focus.”

“The selection, removal or replacement of advisory committee members or the disbanding of advisory committees based on criteria extraneous either to the science and technology issues that the agency addresses, or the representation of stakeholder interests, compromises the integrity of the process of receiving scientific advice,” the letter said.

Scientists also have voiced concerns that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is paring the ranks of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, which is responsible for advising the agency on the scientific rigor and integrity of its research. The agency’s Office of Research and Development recently informed dozens of members of the board that their terms would not be renewed when they end in August. This comes after the early May dismissal of nine counselors, whose terms had traditionally been renewed.

Beyond the expression of concern about “the future of scientific advice in the U.S. federal government,” the signatories also underscored federal requirements that scientific data and information is preserved and protected on government websites. Federal law makes it a crime to destroy agency data and information and requires such information to be archived from one administration to the next.

“It is vital that government agencies provide, maintain and secure access to scientifically accurate information,” the letter said. “Such information includes not only publicly funded databases, but also interpretative materials and resources that are easy to find, access and share, within the limits of national security, privacy and proprietary rules.”

“Current scientific and technological knowledge is the foundation for future research, experimentation, debate, consensus-building and understanding. Scientifically accurate information builds the foundation for public policies that promote the well-being of people and communities,” the letter said.

The letter comes after Pruitt in late April acted on an earlier pledge to revamp the EPA’s website to reflect Trump administration positions. Those searching for an extensive repository of information about climate change science are currently directed to a webpage that says it is being updated and linked to a historic snapshot of how the page appeared on 19 January 2017, before the presidential inauguration.

[Associated image: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey]