The pandemic was challenging—for society, governments, and individuals. It was also a challenge to the scientific process and the public’s trust in the integrity of science generally. As part of recovering from the pandemic, the federal government and others are doing their best to rebuild a damaged foundation and to construct even great protections for scientific integrity. Shelly Mittal, LSEC Vice-Chair, outlines this ongoing process, initiated in part by the Biden administration, and how law students and young lawyers can help contribute to restoring and deepening respect for science and scientific integrity. For those interested in these topics, SciTech has several committees dedicated to this mission, including the Scientific Evidence Committee, the Rights and Responsibilities of Scientists Committee, and the Science and Technology for the Social Good Committee.—David Husband, Chair of LSEC
In January 2022, President Biden’s National Science and Technology Council issued a report entitled “Protecting the Integrity of Government Science,” which emphasized that evidence-based decisions and robust science are key pillars of good governance. The report stated that “[v]iolations of scientific integrity damage trust in both science and government.” This report did not come out of nowhere but was followed by attacks on science during COVID-19 crisis. Though the report focuses on promoting evidence-based rulemaking for governments, the need to maintain scientific integrity and prevent attacks on science is ubiquitous for all fields of research.
Attacks on science can range from denying scientific evidence, research misconduct, or promoting pseudoscience. These attacks lead to lack of trust in science itself and make it difficult for scientists to conduct research and report findings accurately. Various guidelines have been formulated by organizations, to promote integrity, compliance, and ethical standards when conducting research. However, these guidelines alone cannot completely prevent the various forms of attacks on science. Proponents of science need to step up to create awareness and reinforce the credibility of scientific research.
With new and emerging technologies constantly intertwined with the practice of law, even young lawyers and law students can play a significant role in preventing these attacks on science by advocating for ethical behavior in research and reiterating the importance of scientific integrity, particularly if their clients engage in scientific research. Supporting whistleblowers, who report research misconduct, by providing legal advice and guidance, is yet another way lawyers can contribute. Lawyers and law students can also find a meaningful career and impact by participating in policymaking related to research integrity at various forums and levels. At a minimum, all lawyers and law students should strive to stay updated on the latest scientific developments and research ethics, which can go a long way in promoting scientific aptitude and preserving the credibility of science.