Yesterday, John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, distributed a long-awaited memo to all agency and department heads on Scientific Integrity. This 21-month effort was the result of a pledge by President Obama on March 9, 2009 to, within 120 days, develop recommendations for Presidential action designed to guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch” as well as “emphasizing the importance of science in guiding Administration decisions and the importance of ensuring that the public trusts the science behind those decisions.”
The memo lays out some excellent principles that agencies and departments should follow…
Ensure a culture of scientific integrity. Scientific progress depends upon honest investigation, open discussion, refined understanding, and a firm commitment to evidence. Science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses from inappropriate political influence; political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings. [...]
Open communication among scientists and engineers, and between these experts and the public, accelerates scientific and technological advancement, strengthens the economy, educates the Nation, and enhances democracy/ [...]
Establish principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public. The accurate presentation of scientific and technological information is critical to informed decision making by the public and policymakers. Agencies should communicate scientific and technological findings by including a clear explication of underlying assumptions; accurate contextualization of uncertainties; and a description of the probabilities associated with both optimistic and pessimistic projections, including best-case and worst-case scenarios where appropriate.
This is, while merely a memo, refreshing, and the kind of thing that has been sorely lacking from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and its director.
There’s much more in the memo which, if followed, would open the door to a realistic and open national conversation about drug policy.
But there’s one catch.
At the end of the memo…
Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof…
And, of course, the current law authorizing the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy specifically states:
Responsibilities. –The Director– [...]
(12) shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that–
- is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and
- has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;
If the science says that legalization is even a viable option, the Drug Czar is required by law to ignore, obfuscate, lie, or whatever else is necessary to oppose any attempts to legalize.
By definition in the memo, scientific integrity requires an open analysis of the issue, including looking at best and worst-case scenarios. Yet the law specifically prohibits that kind of openness.
The law trumps the memo’s guidelines, leaving the Drug Czar and the ONDCP specifically exempt from the government’s Scientific Integrity policy.