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    USDA increases suppression of scientific information


    Ellen Paul
    • Author: Ornithological Council

      The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now added to existing restraints on the suppression of scientific research conducted and published by scientists employed by the U.S. government.

      UPDATE 14 May 2019: Per the Washington Post (10 May) "The Agriculture Department has dropped its demand that staff scientists label peer-reviewed research as “preliminary,” after angry protests followed a Washington Post story disclosing the policy." See more details, below.

       

    UPDATE 14 May 2019 (excerpts from the Washington Post 10 May 2019):

    The Agriculture Department has dropped its demand that staff scientists label peer-reviewed research as “preliminary,” after angry protests followed a Washington Post story disclosing the policy.

    But the latest guidelines, released on Wednesday, for internally reviewing science within the department raise additional questions about scientific integrity, said non-USDA researchers who inspected the guide....This week, acting USDA chief scientist Chavonda Jacobs-Young released a memo that replaced the July policy. It requires the following language when disclaimers are necessary: “The findings and conclusions in this [publication/presentation/blog/report] are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.”

    ...even this language may not be needed: “Many journals have this statement on their mastheads. This expectation, that an article represents the views of the authors only, is indeed the standard.”

    ...Rebecca Boehm, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a D.C.-based organization that advocates for scientists, said that “removing ‘preliminary’ from the disclaimer is a step in the right direction, but there still may be unnecessary obstacles preventing agency researchers from publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals.”

    ...Not every study published by a USDA scientist is required to have this disclaimer. Some research agencies at USDA, including the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Forest Service have “agency-specific policies” that determine when a disclaimer is appropriate, said William Trenkle, the USDA scientific integrity officer.

    ...the department’s internal review process before scientists can publish results in journals. It lists several “flags” that may trigger additional scrutiny. Some flags, under the umbrella of “prominent issues,” include “significant” scientific advancements, the potential to attract media attention, and results that could influence trade or change USDA policy.

    ...

    Susan Offutt, who was the administrator of the Economic Research Service under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said the guide twists internal review “into a process by which policy officials get the final say on content.” Because researchers at the Economic Research Service publish statistics to aid policymakers, “just about any output” from that agency could be flagged, she said. USDA’s “interests apparently concern consistency with prevailing policy,” Offutt said, “not the public’s access to the best, unbiased science and analysis.”

     

     

    From the Washington Post, 19 April 2019:

    Researchers at the Agriculture Department laughed in disbelief last summer when they received a memo about a new requirement: Their finalized, peer-reviewed scientific publications must be labeled “preliminary.”

    The July 2018 memo from Chavonda Jacobs-Young, the acting USDA chief scientist, told researchers their reports published in scientific journals must include a statement that reads: “The findings and conclusions in this preliminary publication have not been formally disseminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.” A copy of the memo was obtained by The Washington Post and the USDA confirmed its authenticity.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/04/19/usda-orders-scientists-say-published-research-is-preliminary/?utm_term=.e08bf8db6cf8

    The policy may reflect an attempt to end-run the Information Quality Act, which pertains only to information disseminated by the federal government. That law, created at the behest of corporate anti-regulatory interests, has been a double-edged sword which has also been used by health and environmental groups to challenge the basis of federal agency policies and statements.

    This newest effort to strangle scientific information produced by scientists employed by federal agencies follows the requirement imposed by the Bush administration that requires scientists (in numerous agencies) to submit their work - including publications and presentations - to agency communications or other leadership offices prior to publication.

    In addition, the policy bans scientists from including “personal view” statements, language that federal employees have often used to distinguish research articles they author from policy documents issued by the agency. Such a statement might read, in part: “opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own,” as suggested by the National Institutes of Health.

    Edited by Ellen Paul


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