Science and politics

Via Roger, Nature has an interesting article on the the apparent muzzling of government scientists at various agencies.  Some of the stories are a bit troubling, for for me the key sentence comes at the end of this paragraph:

Lane is concerned about the effect of these restrictions on scientists and their work. “It kills morale,” he says. “It makes scientists feel like their work is not valued, and it makes it harder for agencies to recruit and retain the best scientists.” Keeping information from the public could put the credibility of the agency at risk, and some scientists say it affects their careers. “The restrictions limit my overall stature in the research community,” says an ARS scientist who asked to remain anonymous.

Not everyone feels this strongly. Some ARS scientists say that the agency’s internal review process for their research papers is appropriate, and is just part of working for the government.

I suspect part of the problem (as alluded to in the article) is that scientists working in government simply don’t operate under the same rules as, say, academia.  Conflict and disagreement will inevitably happen until rules are clarified.  I’d like to know how many scientists, exactly, feel muzzled, and how widespread is this feeling? What exactly does it mean that “some scientists” feel the restrictions are appropriate? Some people will always have problems with the rules, and I need a bit more context to evaluate these claims.

I also think it’s mildly funny that alleged restrictions is what’s harming the scientist’s stature in the research community.  I’d have thought that leaving academia in the first place is what screws your status whether or not there are restrictions.


  1. The Bubble Chamber had a similar debate over these kind of restrictions based on a comparable Canadian case. There’s an added complication to the matter. It appears that government staff interfered with the proper response to the Canadian equivalent of a FOIA request on the matter. I have a problem with that, but not with the pre-approval requirements.

    An important question here is to what extent pre-approval of media contacts constitutes ‘muzzling’ when the paper was already published.

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