Widespread political pressure on US Fish & Wildlife scientists to fudge their data

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released the results of a survey of US Fish and Wildlife Service field scientists that reveals serious political preasure to self-censure and even exclude or alter technical information that might lead to species being protected. (It’s telling that there was a 30% response rate even after a directive was sent out instructing scientists not to respond even from home on their own time.)

From the executive summary:

  • Large numbers of agency scientists reported political interference in scientific determinations. Nearly half of all respondents whose work is related to endangered species (44 percent) report that they have been directed for non-scientific reasons to refrain from making findings that protect species. One in five have been instructed to compromise their scientific integrity, reporting that they have been “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from a USFWS scientific document.” In the Southwest region, that number was even higher—closer to one in three.
  • Agency scientists reported being afraid to speak frankly about issues and felt constrained in their role as scientists. 42 percent said they could not publicly express “concerns about the biological needs of species and habitats without fear of retaliation,” while 30 percent were afraid to do so even within the agency. A third felt they are not allowed to do their jobs as scientists.
  • There has been a significant strain on staff morale. Half of all scientists reported that morale is poor to extremely poor; only 12 percent believed morale to be good or excellent. And 64 percent did not feel the agency is moving in the right direction.
  • Political intrusion has undermined the USFWS’s ability to fulfill its mission. Three out of four staff scientists felt that the USFWS is not “acting effectively to maintain or enhance species and their habitats.”