U.S. Geological Survey Defends Its Scientific Integrity
A ‘Steps of the Scientific Method’ poster hangs in a middle school science lab. Students quickly learn that during the ‘results’ stage, if the outcome is not what you expect, you cannot just go back and change the data. This principle is taught from the very beginning of science education, but a Department of Interior (DOI) Scientific Integrity Review Panel found that a few employees at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) failed to adhere to this while collecting data from a mass spectrometer at the Energy Resources Program (ERP) Geochemistry Laboratory in Colorado. On December 6, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations discussed the two incidences of data manipulation by laboratory analysts (1996-2008, 2008-2014) as well as occurrences of workplace harassment brought to light during the integrity investigation.
Representatives from both parties expressed their disappointment in the agency’s breaches of scientific integrity. Mr. William Werkheiser (Deputy Director, USGS) attested that USGS is enacting measures to guarantee future scientific integrity, including oversight of data quality, development of a “rigorous” quality assurance program, and a request for the National Academy of Sciences to assess all current lab programs and quality control procedures. He also explained that the agency will be thoroughly examining the economic impacts of industry, academia, and other stakeholders using these falsified data. Ranking Member Debbie Dingell (MI-12) questioned Mr. Werkheiser about allegations of harassment that were uncovered during the scientific integrity investigation. He replied that he was disturbed by the reports and that steps to address the problem include workplace environment training and working with DOI for employee access to an ombudsperson. While Mr. Werkheiser received repeated questions about how this breach of scientific integrity continued for years and across separate incidents, along with overlooked workplace harassment, he vowed that “misconduct and mismanagement will not be tolerated at USGS” and that the agency must be held accountable because “we owe it to our country, to taxpayers.”