Under the guidelines, government scientists are in general free to speak to journalists and the public about their work, and agencies are prohibited from editing or suppressing reports by independent advisory committees.
And the agencies are instructed that when communicating a scientific finding to the public, they should describe its underlying assumptions. For instance, they are told to describe “probabilities associated with both optimistic and pessimistic projections” — a guideline that, had it been in place last summer, might have helped the administration avoid overly optimistic estimates of the BP oil spill.
In a blog entry on the White House Web site, John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, said the guidelines set “minimum standards” that federal agencies will be expected to meet.
The agencies are to report to Dr. Holdren within 120 days, detailing how they will carry out the policy.
Some scientists praised the new guidelines. “I think they represent several steps in the right direction,” said Albert H. Teich, director of science and policy programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
But others were disappointed that the four-page document did not provide more specifics. “The guidelines are substantively quite thin,” said Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado.
The guidelines have their roots in a series of scientific controversies that erupted during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Officials were repeatedly accused of suppressing or even altering research findings, particularly on climate change, to match the political views of the White House. So in March 2009, when Mr. Obama overturned Bush administration limits on stem cellresearch, he set out several principles to “guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch” and added, “We make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”
But though the president called on Dr. Holdren to come up with recommendations within four months, the guidelines did not emerge for over a year and a half.