Bioethics Blogs

Can Science Survive in a Communications Blackout: Restricting Speech Violates Scientific Ethics

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

That good ethics begins with good facts is an oft-heard mantra and was my first lesson when I began conducting clinical ethics consults 20 years ago. In the clinic, good facts come from many sources such as talking to health care providers, patients and families and from looking at test results. Empirical facts come from good science whether that is social science, bench science, health science, or theoretical science to name a few. The sharing of scientific facts, studies, and results is at the heart of the scientific enterprise. Sharing your work allows for peer-review, for confirmation of the work, for challenges to other’s work, and for furthering the progress of other scientists. What if Watson and Crick had been forbidden from publishing on the double helix? Would we have the genetics revolution of today? What if the government scientists who created DARPA net had never been allowed to share their work? Would the internet exist?

According to several news reports, the new administration issued a gag order to research scientists in several executive branch agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health & Human Services, US Department of Agriculture’s Research Service, as well as the departments of the Interior and Transportation have been ordered to cease external communications and to funnel such desires to communicate through “leadership.”

This gag rule is more than simply limiting social media posts. It apparently means no communication with the media, Congress, blogs and press releases. This may extend to webinars, presenting at scientific conferences, and even scholarly publication since some agencies have been asked to submit lists of such external speaking engagements.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.