White House Assembles Task Force to Sever Politics from Science
White House Assembles Task Force to Sever Politics from Science

White House Assembles Task Force to Sever Politics from Science

The 46-person panel will identify instances when politics got in the way of science since 2009.

Lisa Winter
May 10, 2021

ABOVE: © ISTOCK.COM, SHAUNL

One week after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden issued a memo announcing the assembly of a task force that would identify and make recommendations to rectify incidences of partisan politics interfering with scientific policy. The decision built upon presidential memos from former President Barack Obama’s time in office, when Biden was the Vice President. Now, a 46-person panel has been assembled with the ultimate goal of reinstating public trust in science by removing partisan pressure from policy making, the Associated Press reports.

“We want people to be able to trust what the federal government is telling you, whether it’s a weather forecast or information about vaccine safety or whatever,” Jane Lubchenco, the deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, tells the AP.

Former President Donald Trump’s tenure in office was rife with complaints of politics overtaking scientific evidence. From funding cuts to policies misaligned with evidence, decisions to withdraw from international organizations, and the appointment of people with industrial ties to head up scientific agencies, there are countless examples in recent years of political meddling harming the scientific process. Trump’s presidency was even bookended with numerous vacancies in high-level science positions.

See “Depoliticizing Science

Although the world is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, author Michael Lewis offers a damning look at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s response in his new book The Premonition: A Pandemic Story. Through interviews with current and former health officials at the CDC and in local capacities, Lewis tells how efforts to quash the virus in the early days of the pandemic were thwarted at a number of levels for political reasons. But according to Lewis, the precedent for interference was set long before Trump was in office.  

“[T]he bigger picture is we as a society have allowed institutions like the CDC to become very politicized. And this is a larger pattern in the U.S. government,” Lewis tells NPR. “More and more jobs being politicized, more and more people in these jobs being on shorter, tighter leashes. More the kind of person who ends up in the job being someone who is politically pleasing to whoever happens to be in the White House.”

The newly formed task force has 120 days to find where politically motivated deficiencies have influenced federal policy since 2009 and will have an additional 120 days after that to compile their recommendations for eliminating that influence.

In another move toward taking politics out of science, NASA will be approaching its Earth-centric programs with renewed vigor, particularly as they apply to climate change. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, has been named NASA’s first-ever climate adviser and will be in a unique position to provide updates on the toll of climate change.

“You can’t mitigate climate change unless you measure it,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at his confirmation hearing, Nature reports, “and that’s NASA’s expertise.”