The controversial text reads: “[Agency] scientists shall refrain from making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on, [an agency] or any other federal government policy, unless they have secured appropriate prior approval to do so. Such communications shall remain within the bounds of their scientific or technological findings, unless specifically otherwise authorized.”
Since 2103, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has had in place a similar rule, and used it to censor a scientist at the behest of Monsanto, Ruch said. In 2014, then USDA entomologist Jon Lundgren was part of a study that suggested monoculture farming reduces diversity in insect populations.
Citing the rule, the USDA’s political leadership, then under Tom Vilsack, an Obama appointee, ordered Lundgren to remove his name from the study. It also barred him from speaking at a conference about the effects genetically modified crops and pesticides have on pollinators. Lundgren ultimately resigned.
“If you can’t study pollinators as an entomologist then that leaves you with a lot of things that you can’t do,” Ruch said. “It’s these sorts of scenarios that we’re trying to draw OSTP’s attention to – it’s the science that’s controversial that can get a scientist in trouble.”
In a letter to the OSTP asking it to rescind the rule, Peer cited examples of current research that could be put at risk, including EPA studies of toxic PFAS migrating off of military bases, or Centers for Disease Control research showing dangerous viruses are at risk of release from wildlife laboratories.
The rule also helps give cover to political manipulation of government science, Ruch said. Whistleblowers in the EPA have said agency management altered toxicity reports of some chemicals to make them appear less dangerous, and the new rule helps keep science out of the public view.