Objective data and research are essential to effective governance and democratic oversight. Without credible science the fundamental responsibilities of government are threatened. The public loses faith in the agencies of government, and the best and brightest scientists are discouraged and blocked from public service.
Government scientists may be muzzled in reporting their research, even threatened with losing their jobs, when their findings do not favour the partisan line of those in government. Administrations have manipulated the findings of government scientists and researchers, retaliated against career researchers for political reasons, invited outside special interests to shape research priorities, undermined and sidelined advisory committees staffed by scientists, and suppressed research and analysis from public view. Such action not only politicizes scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times undermines the value of objective facts themselves.
In 2019 in the USA, a nonpartisan taskforce of ex-government officials reported ‘almost weekly violations’ of norms meant to safeguard objective scientific research: research findings are manipulated for political gain, special interests are given improper influence and scientists are targeted for ideological reasons. It noted that safeguards meant to ensure that government research is objective and fully available to the public have been “steadily weakening” under recent administrations and that the current administration is attempting “not only to politicize scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves." For example, the Department of Interior reassigned a climate scientist to an accounting role after he warned about the impact of global heating on Arctic communities. At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientific advisory boards were redrawn to include more industry representatives. The EPA’s leadership also told scientists to reverse their findings in a report that showed the economic benefits to protecting wetlands from pollution, while suppressing a separate study that found a far greater threat is posed by a toxic chemical in water than previously thought. The report echoes complaints by a number of former federal government officials who claim their work on areas such as the climate crisis and pollution standards was either sidelined or subverted by the Trump administration as part of its zeal for environmental deregulation. In order to remedy the current situation, the report recommends new scientific integrity standards at government agencies, fresh rules to eliminate manipulation or suppression of research and better public access to government data.