Science, Censored

Of course the press whines when government scientists won’t talk to reporters. Now the government itself—well, at least the congressional branch—has noticed the same problem. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report concluding that three federal agencies that conduct scientific research, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the latter of which is the home of much of the nation’s climate research, do a darn good job of preventing government scientists from telling the public what they’ve discovered.

Since it’s the public that pays for the research, this is kind of like hiring a roofer to tell you what’s going on with your flashing and having him clam up on you.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, surveyed 1,811 randomly-selected researchers at three agencies. It found that 102 at NASA and 76 at NOAA have been barred from publicizing their research results. (This did not include those who were shut down for valid reasons, such as that the study did not pass technical muster.)

The report concludes that “6 percent—or about 200 researchers—across NASA, NIST [the National Institute of Standards and Technology], and NOAA had dissemination requests denied during the last 5 years. One of the most common reasons researchers mentioned for these denials was that the topic of the research was sensitive or restricted for security reasons; in some cases, no reason was given. Most researchers at these agencies believe that their agency is more supportive of dissemination of research through publications and presentations, than dissemination through the media.”

Of course, we all know that the public—again, which pays for this research—reads technical science journals all the time and regularly attends scientific meetings. So the fact that the research isn’t being communicated through, say, television and newspapers shouldn’t be a problem.