Political interference in scientific research (U.S.)

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Political interference in scientific research (U.S.) includes attempts to manipulate, undermine, censor, alter, or otherwise inappropriately interfere with scientific processes, research, or conclusions for political or ideological reasons. [1]

Instances of Interference

Climate Change

  • In January 2006, James E. Hansen, long time director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, went public with the fact that NASA officials were attempting to prevent him from discussing the impact of his research on climate change. After Hansen gave a lecture at which he called for significant reductions in greenhouse gases, politically-appointed public affairs officials began reviewing and filtering his public statements and press interviews. One official resigned amidst extensive media criticism of his conduct in attempting to silence Dr. Hansen. [2]
  • In March 2005, Rick Piltz resigned from the government office that coordinates federal climate change programs, declaring that political appointees were working to "undermine the credibility and integrity of the program." The New York Times in June made public documents from Piltz's office showing handwritten edits on several 2002 and 2003 scientific climate change reports. White House official and former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist Philip A. Cooney made the edits, which increased and at times overstated the level of uncertainty associated with climate science.[3]

Environmental Science

  • Senior officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior intentionally disregarded extensive scientific studies conducted by five separate federal and state agencies over four years in preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) on mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. J. Stephen Griles, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and National Mining Association lobbyist directed the relevant federal agencies to ignore the court approved focus of the EIS – to minimize adverse environmental effects to water, fish and wildlife from mountaintop removal mining – to instead "centralizing and streamlining coal-mining permitting." Scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency also noted that the new EIS did not reflect those agencies' scientific findings and was edited to remove technical language rating environmental impacts as "significant" or "severe." [4]

Endangered Species

  • A 2007 Interior Department Inspector General report uncovered that former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie A. MacDonald interfered with the science behind the decisions related to several species including the greater sage grouse and the white-tailed prairie dog. In several notable cases, this interference resulted in changing a "positive" finding--in favor of protecting species under the Endangered Species Act--to a "negative" finding.[5]



  1. Chris Mooney, "The Republican War on Science," Basic Books, 2006. P. 17.
  2. Andrew Revkin, "Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him," New York Times, January 29, 2006.
  3. Andrew Revkin, "Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming," New York Times, June 8, 2005.
  4. Union of Concerned Scientists, "Leveling a Mountain of Research on Mountaintop Removal Strip Mining"
  5. Union of Concerned Scientists, "Systematic Interference with Science at Interior Department Exposed,"

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