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Scientific Integrity and Agricultural Research

With food, agriculture, and natural resources at the center of many of the biggest challenges we face today, nothing is more critical than making sure our agricultural system is based on sound science.  As USDA’s Chief Scientist one of my responsibilities is making sure our Department’s research system maintains the highest standards of what is known as “scientific integrity.”  Scientific integrity includes making sure that scientific research proceeds free of outside influence or coercion, and that scientific findings are not suppressed or altered.

I am pleased to say that Secretary Vilsack has recently released a policy on scientific integrity, and charged me to implement it across the Department.  This policy follows directly from the guidance provided by President Obama and the further guidance from Dr. John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The policy directs everyone at USDA – career employees, political appointees, and contractors who are involved in developing or applying science – on the proper conduct and use of science.

The elements of the USDA policy include:

  • promoting a culture of scientific integrity;
  • utilizing information based on well-established scientific processes, including peer review;
  • reflecting scientific information appropriately and accurately in regulatory actions;
  • making scientific findings public;
  • establishing mechanisms to resolve disputes involving scientific processes and integrity;
  • protection for “whistleblowers”
  • policies for Federal Advisory Committees that give scientific advice;
  • communications by scientists with the media; and
  • professional development of scientists and engineers.

We will be working over the coming months to implement this policy by developing a Departmental Regulation and training for all affected employees, so that everyone understands the policy and has all of the knowledge that they need to comply.

I invite your comments on the policy, posted here, which we will take into account in developing the Departmental Regulation and training.  Please send your comments to by October 31, 2011. Those with limited computer access can call 202-720-3444 to request a copy of the policy and instructions for returning written comments via mail.

2 Responses to “Scientific Integrity and Agricultural Research”

  1. Rick Bennett says:

    I support the policy

  2. Rick Bennett says:

    The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is the premier scientific professional society dedicated to high-quality, innovative research in plant pathology. For more than a century, members of APS have been making and sharing significant breakthroughs for both science and society. APS is driven by a distinctive community of scientists, including USDA and other federal government employees, whose energy and commitment ensure advancements in this critical science.

    APS supports and welcomes the Secretary’s Memorandum 1074-001 on USDA Scientific Integrity Policy. This memorandum establishes the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy that provides guidance to Departmental leadership and scientists to ensure that public policies are based on sound science relevant to food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues. APS particularly endorses the policy, as stated under section 3. J. (4), that allows “USDA scientists to participate in professional societies, committees, task forces and other specialized bodies of professional societies, including removing barriers for serving as officers or on governing boards of such societies”.

    APS leadership has been working with the USDA to ensure that government scientists can participate fully in the APS. As interpreted under the policy, USDA scientists, regulators and researchers are now allowed and encouraged to serve as elected officers on APS leadership committees that provide credible and beneficial information related to plant health and participate fully in the exchange of knowledge with the public and larger scientific community. By serving in leadership positions at APS, including elected positions with financial fiduciary responsibilities, USDA members of APS will be better engaged to promote opportunities for scientific communication and to articulate a vision for the future of plant pathology in the United States.

    We thank Secretary Vilsack and Undersecretary Woteki for your foresight and recognition of the contribution USDA employees make to our professional society to ensure that our scientific research maintains the highest standard of integrity.

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