The Biden administration implemented a “gag order” in January 2023 that restrains federal scientists from addressing controversial research topics to the public, the Guardian reported in February 2023. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) unveiled a rule requiring scientists to receive approval before publishing opinions and research on topics connected to government policy. Climate change, chemical contamination, and biosafety are among the controversial issues impacted by the order.
One of the experts featured in the Guardian’s report was Jeff Ruch, the Pacific director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This non-profit organization is committed to protecting federal research and notes that the rule is unconstitutional because it limits government scientists from discussing their research. Ruch said the rule would have a “chilling effect” on the nation’s scientific discourse.
Although the rule was introduced in early 2023, its structure can be traced back to the Obama administration when a USDA entomologist was prohibited from presenting research on insect biodiversity during a conference. Similar policies were utilized by the Trump administration when making controversial decisions.
Ruch indicated that rewriting the document under the Biden administration was supposed to provide clarity. However, in its current state, the rule is vague, does not offer legal protection for government scientists, and further opens the door for political actors’ manipulation of government science.
The rule “also helps give cover to political manipulation of government science,” the Guardian reported. “Whistleblowers in the EPA have said agency management altered toxicity reports of some chemicals to make them appear less dangerous, and the new rule helps keep science out of the public view.”
Although some media outlets—including The Hill and the Washington Examiner—have discussed the “gag rule,” as of April 7th, 2023, most establishment news outlets have not done so. This omission from the establishment press is especially shocking, given the thousands of articles published between 2020 to 2022 that included developing research relating to the COVID pandemic.
Tom Perkins, “Biden Administration’s Rule for Federal Scientists Is a ‘Gag Order’, Critics Say,” The Guardian, February 10, 2023.
Julia Conley, “Experts Condemn Biden Admin’s Proposed ‘Gag Rule’ for Federal Scientists,” Common Dreams, February 10, 2023.
Student Researcher: Cem İsmail Addemir (Illinois State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)