[Paleopsych] Los Angeles Times: U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Findings
checker at panix.com
Tue Apr 5 17:42:09 UTC 2005
Los Angeles Times: U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Findings
[This is quite alarming and unprecendented in science, but rather the norm
in other areas. Any followups on this finding, which came out during my
annual Lenten break?]
More than 200 Fish and Wildlife researchers cite cases where conclusions were
reversed to weaken protections and favor business, a survey finds.
By Julie Cart
Times Staff Writer
February 10, 2005
More than 200 scientists employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service say they have been directed to alter official findings to
lessen protections for plants and animals, a survey released Wednesday
The survey of the agency's scientific staff of 1,400 had a 30%
response rate and was conducted jointly by the Union of Concerned
Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
A division of the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife
Service is charged with determining which animals and plants should be
placed on the endangered species list and designating areas where such
species need to be protected.
More than half of the biologists and other researchers who responded
to the survey said they knew of cases in which commercial interests,
including timber, grazing, development and energy companies, had
applied political pressure to reverse scientific conclusions deemed
harmful to their business.
Bush administration officials, including Craig Manson, an assistant
secretary of the Interior who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service,
have been critical of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, contending that
its implementation has imposed hardships on developers and others
while failing to restore healthy populations of wildlife.
Along with Republican leaders in Congress, the administration is
pushing to revamp the act. The president's proposed budget calls for a
$3-million reduction in funding of Fish and Wildlife's endangered
"The pressure to alter scientific reports for political reasons has
become pervasive at Fish and Wildlife offices around the country,"
said Lexi Shultz of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Mitch Snow, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the
agency had no comment on the survey, except to say "some of the basic
premises just aren't so."
The two groups that circulated the survey also made available memos
from Fish and Wildlife officials that instructed employees not to
respond to the survey, even if they did so on their own time. Snow
said that agency employees could not use work time to respond to
Fish and Wildlife scientists in 90 national offices were asked 42
questions and given space to respond in essay form in the mail-in
survey sent in November.
One scientist working in the Pacific region, which includes
California, wrote: "I have been through the reversal of two listing
decisions due to political pressure. Science was ignored -- and worse,
manipulated, to build a bogus rationale for reversal of these listing
More than 20% of survey responders reported they had been "directed to
inappropriately exclude or alter technical information."
However, 69% said they had never been given such a directive. And,
although more than half of the respondents said they had been ordered
to alter findings to lessen protection of species, nearly 40% said
they had never been required to do so.
Sally Stefferud, a biologist who retired in 2002 after 20 years with
the agency, said Wednesday she was not surprised by the survey
results, saying she had been ordered to change a finding on a
"Political pressures influence the outcome of almost all the cases,"
she said. "As a scientist, I would probably say you really can't trust
the science coming out of the agency."
A biologist in Alaska wrote in response to the survey: "It is one
thing for the department to dismiss our recommendations, it is quite
another to be forced (under veiled threat of removal) to say something
that is counter to our best professional judgment."
Don Lindburg, head of the office of giant panda conservation at the
Zoological Society of San Diego, said it was unrealistic to expect
federal scientists to be exempt from politics or pressure.
"I've not stood in the shoes of any of those scientists," he said.
"But it is not difficult for me to believe that there are pressures
from those who are not happy with conservation objectives, and here I
am referring to development interest and others.
"But when it comes to altering data, that is a serious matter. I am
really sorry to hear that scientists working for the service feel they
have to do that. Changing facts to fit the politics -- that is a very
unhealthy thing. If I were a scientist in that position I would just
refuse to do it."
The Union of Concerned Scientists and the public employee group
provided copies of the survey and excerpts from essay-style responses.
One biologist based in California, who responded to the survey, said
in an interview with The Times that the Fish and Wildlife Service was
not interested in adding any species to the endangered species list.
"For biologists who do endangered species analysis, my experience is
that the majority of them are ordered to reverse their conclusions [if
they favor listing]. There are other biologists who will do it if you
won't," said the biologist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
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