16 August 2018

Federal Agency Scientific Integrity Survey Results Released

Posted by Chris McEntee

Headshot of Chris McEntee

AGU CEO/Executive Director Chris McEntee

Tuesday, results of a 2018 Scientific Integrity Survey of 16 federal agencies administered by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology (CSSM) at Iowa State University were released. Among the agencies surveyed were the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). AGU provided the funding to ensure that USGS would be included.

The survey itself, which asked for responses only from those staff with primarily scientific responsibilities, queried respondents about the effectiveness of scientific integrity policies at each agency as well as the practices and culture that impact scientific integrity.

In each case, the survey administrators attempted to reach as broad a group of agency scientists as possible, but were constrained by limited access to contact information, among other deterrents. As such, the response rates varied significantly across agencies from three to 19 percent, although both NOAA and USGS had robust response rates (10 and 19 percent, respectively). The survey administrators do not suggest the responses received reflect each agency, but rather provide a window into the views and experiences of thousands of individual scientists within the federal government.

With that as background, I want to note that I am encouraged by some of the positive feedback captured in the survey responses – such as the scientists’ views that agencies are generally adhering to established scientific integrity policies and that the scientists themselves are committed themselves to uphold high standards of scientific ethics.

On the other hand, other survey results were more concerning, indicating that many scientists are experiencing political interference, insufficient resources, and censorship of politically contentious issues – all negatively impacting their morale and the integrity and quality of their scientific work. Some of these issues are not directly addressed by existing scientific integrity policies.

The 2018 survey is the latest in a series of surveys administered under both Republican and Democratic administrations. This year’s survey is the largest to date and represents the first survey to gauge scientific integrity under the Trump Administration. The results provide valuable information for policymakers and an opportunity to improve federal scientific policies and practices in the future.

AGU will continue to monitor scientific integrity at the federal agencies and engage policymakers on the subject, both to promote adherence to the established scientific integrity policies, and to advocate for improvements where necessary. As always, AGU is committed to the rights of scientists and the principles of scientific integrity.

To learn more, please visit the survey results page. If you have questions about AGU’s work to protect scientific integrity, please email sciencepolicy@agu.org.

If you are concerned about political interference, lack of resources for scientists and scientific work at agencies, or censorship of politically contentious issues, you can also ask your legislators to support scientific integrity at federal agencies, using AGU’s Policy Action Center. Hearing from the public and Members of Congress may prompt agencies to undertake needed reforms.

According to the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), it takes less than 50 personal messages to a legislators’ office to get them to act. The five minutes you spend will make a difference for science and your community. Write them today.