New government rules now require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists. The scientists under this new requirement study everything from caribou mating to global warming, but the new rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents.
In fact, even minor reports or prepared talks are under scrutiny now. When asked to clarify, officials at the Interior Department's scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency's public relations staff.
According to Barbara Wainman, the Department of the Interior's communications director, the new rules are not about censoring work or new information: "This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way … I don't have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow."
Many agency scientists who have felt free from any political interference in the past are now worried that the objectivity of their work could be compromised. Jim Estes, a world-known marine biologist with over 30 years of experience, said of the new rules, "I feel as though we've got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that's a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship."
Estes added, "The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research, but to me it feels like they're doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they're afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration."
But some disagree, such as Patrick Leahy, the U.S. Geological Survey's head of geology and its acting director. He says the new procedures will improve scientists' accountability and "harmonize" the review process. Leahy added that the new procedures were added and intended to maintain scientists' neutrality.