Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bill May Give Federal Scientists More Freedom

A bill passed yesterday in the US House of Representatives may give scientists working for the federal government significantly more leeway with current federal disclosure policies. The "Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007," HR 985, was introduced into the house by Reps Waxman, Platts, Van Hollen, and T. Davis on February 12th.

The bill provides a handful of clarifications with regard to whistleblowing etiquette across many parts of the federal government, but the most interesting part of the bill is a small set of addendums buried deep within the document that would give scientists several new rights. Quoted directly, the bill forbids:
1. any action that compromises the validity or accuracy of federally funded research or analysis;
2. the dissemination of false or misleading scientific, medical, or technical information;
These two items would give scientists protection from tampering such as what was done in 2005 to global warming research.

Further, there are two additional items added after the bill's introduction into the house that could be even more important. Also forbade are:
3. any action that restricts or prevents an employee or any person performing federally funded research or analysis from publishing in peer-reviewed journals or other scientific publications or making oral presentations at professional society meetings or other meetings of their peers; and
4. any action that discriminates for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of religion
These last two items would give scientists the rights to submit their research for peer-review and protect them from religious discrimination (important, but I think largely a non-issue in the scientific community).

In my opinion the most significant part of the bill is the third part of the quoted text. This would potentially give scientists not just the opportunity but the right to publish their research. It could even apply to researchers that are under the black curtain of the Pentagon, and could open up a previously completely undisclosed amount of federal research not currently in the public space. I don't think that's the way it would be construed, but one can hope.

Via Ars Article
Link directly to the website with the bill (and the relevant section)

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