Study Shows Little Change in Treatment in Politicization of Science under Obama Administration

March 19, 2010

President Obama declared in his inaugural address that “We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders.” While this came as a welcome refrain to a scientific community so often spurned by the previous administration on issues ranging from stem cell research to climate change, a new study from The Scientists in Government Project suggests that not much has changed, at least in some areas. The 107 page report, accessible here , examines a small group of 37 scientists working in 5 government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The interviews were conducted at multiple points in time, with the majority of first interviews taking place in 2008, prior to the Obama Administration taking office. Thirty of the scientists were then re-interviewed in 2009 to see if they felt that a new Administration had made a difference.

In some areas, some of the scientists reported a number of changes in their work environments, including a more supportive workplace, more attention to their findings and research, and other small improvements which they reported as generally improving their morale at the workplace. However, many of them noted that they felt as though not much had changed since the new Administration took office when it comes to issues such as accessing data, reviewing potential research, clearing papers for publication, and communicating with the public. A great deal of the scientists also feel that they have not been given enough funding to work effectively—though that is often a common perception among all federal agencies, not just scientific ones.

While workplace improvements for scientists may be mixed at best, policy improvements have been numerous. Since the Administration took office, it has ended the ban on federal funding for stem-cell research, increased science funding to new historical highs, and pushed a comprehensive strategy to combat climate change and global warming. So whether or not the Obama Administration has truly “restored science to its rightful place depends upon who you ask. If you many of the scientists in government, the answer is “not yet.”

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