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Good practices

Freedom of expression and good science

Noaa, the United States agency for meteorology, oceans, atmosphere and climate, released in December its policy of scientific integrity, which drew attention because it guaranteed the agency’s scientists the right to talk freely to the press. In 2006, the US Department of Commerce, to which Noaa is subordinate, prevented it from releasing a report on global warming and its impact on the frequency and strength of hurricanes. The justification for this was that the report was “too technical.”

Actually, the issue of the adverse effects of global warming was politically sensitive, given the resistance of the George W. Bush administration to take any measures to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases. That very same year, another US agency, Nasa, was involved in a similar case of censorship. An employee from the public relations sector was accused of trying to restrict access by journalists to James Hansen, the US space agency’s main expert on climate change. At the time, Hansen stated that the censorship campaign had begun after a speech by him in which he had asked for fast reduction of the gases that cause global warming. According to the blog “Careers,” in the journal Science, the Noaa  policy of integrity states that the agency’s scientists “may freely talk to the media and to the public about scientific and technical discoveries based on their official work.” Moreover, it adds that they are “free to put forth points of view, for example, about political and management issues that extend beyond their scientific discoveries, incorporating personal and specialized opinions.” This is the case provided they make it clear that they are not talking on behalf of the agency. “Under no circumstances may a Noaa authority request that scientists suppress or change their scientific discoveries.”

The Noaa document determines that the body’s decisions are to be taken based on the “best possible science.” It establishes rules regarding the statement of conflict of interests and creates the means of protecting those who inform, in good faith, about poor scientific conduct as well as those researchers that are judged innocent in an investigation process.