New law to limit politicized science

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, signed into law on Dec. 30, 2005, mandates that the federal government clean up its scientific act—at least for a year. The law prohibits the three agencies from knowingly disseminating bad data and bans application of any political litmus test to experts under consideration as outside advisers.

No agency funds shall be used “to disseminate scientific information that is deliberately false or misleading,” the statute commands.

“It’s somewhat outrageous that this wasn’t already illegal,” argues Lexi Schultz of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C., an advocacy group.

The law also says that no agency funds “may be used to request that a candidate for appointment to a federal advisory committee disclose [his or her] political affiliation or voting history … or the position that the candidate holds with respect to political issues not directly related to and necessary for the work of the committee involved.”

Introduced by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D–Ill.), the latter provision was triggered by anecdotes of experts passed over for appointments because of their political views. Durbin charged, for instance, that William R. Miller of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was denied a position on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse in 2002 after the psychologist admitted, under questioning, that he hadn’t voted for President Bush.

Unless renewed, the new prohibitions remain in effect only during the current fiscal year.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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