News from the Hill

Acting to protect research integrity

Benjamin Corb
January 29, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee approved the Scientific Research Integrity Act in October with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.

If you get most of your information from television news or newspapers, you might not have heard about this. You might think Congress did little in the final quarter of 2019 beyond debating the impeachment of President Donald Trump and passing federal spending bills. My job is monitoring Congress, and sometimes even those of us who do this for a living have trouble finding reporting — outside our science policy-focused news sources — about any activity unrelated to impeachment on Capitol Hill.

That said, here is an example of what Congress is doing. Introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., the Scientific Research Integrity Act, or H.R. 1709, aims to codify protections for federally funded science and federally funded scientific researchers and to put the brakes on policymakers’ and administration officials’ efforts to politicize science funding.

Specifically, the bill allows federal agencies and government-employed scientists to review data for technical accuracy and provides a mechanism for scientists to review and revise official statements about their findings. Further, it allows federal scientists to present findings at scientific conferences, sit on councils and participate in peer review (subject to conflict-of-interest review). Under the proposal, federal scientists would be authorized to talk to the news media about their science without prior approval from the administration or the agency they work for.

The bill does more still, and I invite you to review it here.

When Tonko introduced this legislation, he said of government scientists, “More and more, their research has become the subject of one political agenda or another. Not since the Scientific Revolution has there been a more important moment to stand for the basic ideas that inquiry must be free and facts and evidence matter.”

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee applauds Tonko for this important legislation, which would create barriers to political pressure on federal scientists and the politicization of scientific findings. We are encouraged to see that the legislation has bipartisan support. The majority of ASBMB members are not federal scientists, but some are — and we think they should be trusted to serve as reliable and unbiased experts in the scientific enterprise.

This legislation is not likely to become federal law. Some of our analytical tools, supplied by the media company Politico, estimate a less than 5% chance of enactment. In the past 10 Congresses, or 20 years, an average of only 3.1% of bills introduced have been enacted into law. While passage of the bill may not be likely, it is not uncommon for popular, noncontroversial proposals in legislation to be included in other related bills that are on track for passage.

We will continue to support passage of this bill, and we will encourage our partners on Capitol Hill to view this legislation as an important way to support the scientific enterprise.

Benjamin Corb

Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Policy

Policy highlights or most popular articles

We are here because we choose to be
Editorial

We are here because we choose to be

July 23, 2020

Five months into a pandemic with arguably the world’s worst response, the United States can no longer take the easy way out and blame only politics for our downfall. We’re to blame, too.

NSF foreign influence probes net nearly two dozen
Blotter

NSF foreign influence probes net nearly two dozen

July 15, 2020

Meanwhile, feds charge Ohio State researcher with fraud and drop theft charges against Emory professor.

U.S. seeks to kick out and ban foreign students
Blotter

U.S. seeks to kick out and ban foreign students

July 08, 2020

Harvard and MIT sue government to stop rule change targeting F-1 and M-1 visa holders at or heading to institutions offering only online courses this fall because of COVID-19.

NIH struggles to address sexual harassment by grantees
Blotter

NIH struggles to address sexual harassment by grantees

July 01, 2020

While the agency has made progress with intramural cases, it has been less successful with extramural ones.

What the Supreme Court's DACA ruling means for undocumented students and the colleges and universities they attend
News

What the Supreme Court's DACA ruling means for undocumented students and the colleges and universities they attend

June 27, 2020

At least for now, hundreds of thousands of students can stay in school without facing new hardships.

When leaders choose self-interest over science, the consequences are deadly
Editorial

When leaders choose self-interest over science, the consequences are deadly

June 26, 2020

As a result of the Trump administration’s actions and inaction, Ben Corb writes, the U.S. was late to adopt a testing protocol to help track and slow the spread of COVID-19.