Scientific integrity

by Greg Mayer

Jerry had written earlier about a piece in the New York Times by Dennis Overbye heralding the restoration of science to its rightful place promised by President Obama in his inaugural address.  I, too, was thrilled when I heard the new president’s words while watching the speech with a throng of travellers at an airport bar in Philadelphia. Perceptively, Overbye wrote, “Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.”

Well, the search for truth by the federal government has resumed. Having reversed or modified some specific Bush administration policies, Obama has now issued a general memorandum on scientific integrity:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.  Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.  If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.  To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking.  The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.

Update: From Obama’s statement on stem cell research, a clear sign that he understands how research goes, and what a “miracle” is:

Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit, and from a government willing to support that work.

2 Comments

  1. Occam
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    American culture may carry the genes of of its Puritanic conception. But the obscurantist Bush years have obfuscated the fact that the United States are the first child of the Enlightenment. This is what the flat-earthers have consistently failed to come to terms with, and they still fail to, again and again.

    Writing of a typically obtuse specimen in the U.S. Senate, Bourke B. Hickenlooper of Iowa, John Kenneth Galbraith noted many years ago his “resistance to even the Renaissance”. That’s about the historic break-off point. Still true today.

    Another passage of Dennis Overbye’s piece is highly significant:

    “It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy and that they arose as a collective behavior about the same time that parliamentary democracies were appearing. If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.” …

    “If we are not practicing good science, we probably aren’t practicing good democracy. And vice versa.”

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 10, 2009 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    President Obama, President Obama, President Obama…..

    I keep saying it and it sounds SOOOOOO good. A breath of fresh air.

    The world is getting a little bit more sane.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] The Federal position comes as good news to the scientists and medical groups involved, and to anyone who wants the law to make  sense. The notion that a gene is a human invention, rather than a product of nature, is absurd to any biologist (unless perhaps you were granted one of these bogus patents, which may be one of those cases where, as Upton Sinclair put it, it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it). This is one instance in which the Obama administration has followed up on his promise that “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a …. [...]

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