After outcry, USDA will no longer require scientists to label research ‘preliminary’


By Ben Guarino, The Washington Post

May 10, 2019


The Agriculture Department has dropped its demand that staff scientists label peer-reviewed research as “preliminary,” after angry protests followed a Washington Post story disclosing the policy.


But the latest guidelines, released on Wednesday, for internally reviewing science within the department raise additional questions about scientific integrity, said non-USDA researchers who inspected the guide.


Since July, the department required peer-reviewed studies to include a disclaimer, The Post reported last month. Some finalized reports came with a caveat — these findings and conclusions are “preliminary” and have “not been formally disseminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”


USDA employees, editors of scientific journals and science advocates worried the disclaimer might be used to undercut scientists whose research was at odds with Trump administration policies. They also were concerned the language was confusing and potentially misleading.


The scientific community, generally speaking, does not expect peer-reviewed journals to publish preliminary results. The disclaimer, though enacted only as a temporary policy, appeared in several published articles, including a report on the best practices for capturing wild pigs.


This week, acting USDA chief scientist Chavonda Jacobs-Young released a memo that replaced the July policy. It requires the following language when disclaimers are necessary: “The findings and conclusions in this [publication/presentation/blog/report] are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.”


Brooks Hanson, vice president of science at the American Geophysical Union, an organization that includes soil and agricultural researchers, said the updated disclaimer is a “welcome” change...


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