science politics

With about 2 years delay, US President Donald Trump hired Kelvin Droegemeier as director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in February 2019. In a recent interview Dr. Droegemeier made the following broad, categorical statement in response to a PLan S question:

One of the things this government will not do is to tell researchers where they have to publish their papers. That is absolutely up to the scholar who’s doing the publication. There’s just no question about that.

[…]

This goes back to the president’s fundamental philosophy of let’s not shackle people, let’s let them be free to choose where they publish. Let’s not put any administrative constraints on them.

As Hanlon’s razor requires to first rule out incompetence before attributing malice to any action, one needs to assess the competence of Dr. Droegemeier with regard to such sweeping policy statements. On his Wikipedia entry one can find numerous political appointments for various policy posts since 2004. It is thus fair to assume that Dr. Droegemeier has a fair bit of experience and expertise with regard to the long-standing policies of the US government. Moreover, previous director Holdren and several other scientists have spoken out in favor of Dr. Droegemeier’s appointment. Attributing any false statement to incompetence would thus seem unlikely, even if he was appointed by Trump.

It is thus straightforward to conclude that the above statement was a lie with the purpose of scoring political points, as his statements are very easy to verify. For instance, one can have a look at job advertisements of a federal agency, such as the NIH, top see if they contain any language that implies that the government may “tell researchers where they have to publish their papers”. Such statements are, of course, easy enough to find. Here are two examples:

In this ad for a postdoctoral position in the NIAID/NIH Translational Allergic Immunopathy Unit it lists under expected qualifications: “a track record of publication in peer-reviewed journals”. Clearly, you are not welcome at the NIH (“this government”) if you haven’t published in these particular venues.

This ad for a postdoctoral position at the NCI/NIH cancer center goes even further. It makes the explicit expectation that the candidate, once hired, continues to publish in such journals, as the candidate “is anticipated to complete this study with one or more high-impact publications in peer review journals.”

Clearly, one of the things this US government is doing is precisely telling researchers in no uncertain terms where they have to publish their papers if they want to be/stay hired by this government – in a clear contradiction to what Dr. Droegemeier has stated in the interview. Surely a man with such ample experience in science policy is aware of the policies of the US’s largest scientific agency?

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Posted on  at 12:31