Interior Department Wants Stricter Data Standards in Conservation Decisions
Interior Department Wants Stricter Data Standards in Conservation Decisions

Interior Department Wants Stricter Data Standards in Conservation Decisions

A new rule would emphasize public, peer-reviewed reports in its decision-making, which has scientists concerned about the exclusion of sensitive, private data.

Oct 4, 2018
Kerry Grens

ABOVE: © ISTOCK, PABRADYPHOTO

The US Department of the Interior issued a proposal last week (September 28) that the scientific data contributing to conservation decisions be publicly available and peer-reviewed, BuzzFeed News reports. The government says the rule will increase transparency, while critics argue that valuable data—such as confidential information on threatened species—could be ignored.

“This order came about in response to perennial concerns that the Department has not been providing sufficient information to the public to explain how and why it reaches certain conclusions, or that it is cherry picking science to support pre-determined outcomes,” Interior spokesperson Heather Swift writes to BuzzFeed in an email.

In a blog post, Charise Johnson of the Union of Concerned Scientists counters that the rule is designed to push aside data that don’t support President Donald Trump’s agenda. “This proposal could make the conservation of endangered species all the more difficult because of the requirement to reveal location data, landholder information and other information that is best kept confidential in order to protect endangered plants and animals,” she writes. 

See “Overcoming the Challenges of Studying Endangered Animals

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) similarly issued a proposal this year to require that data be publicly available in order to be considered in generating regulations. Scientific organizations roundly opposed the plan, saying it would dismiss important sources of data that are kept confidential for reasons such as protecting patient privacy. 

The Interior’s plan is more permissive, allowing policymakers to explain why they might include studies for which data aren’t publicly available.

See “Proposed EPA ‘Transparency’ Rule Criticized

The EPA received fresh criticism for its transparency policy when The Washington Post revealed yesterday (October 3) that the agency’s top science office was not involved in developing the rule.