- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

A scientific code of conduct has been adopted by the Interior Department in response to biologists’ submitting falsified samples during a national study of the threatened Canadian lynx.

The code was recommended by the department’s inspector general after an investigation confirmed the fake samples were submitted during a 1999-2000 survey of the lynx’s habitat — a fraud first reported by The Washington Times.

The “Code of Scientific Conduct” states that employees will not “hinder the scientific and information gathering activities of others nor engage in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or other scientific research or professional misconduct.”

Employees must report their activities “honestly, thoroughly and without conflict of interest.” And, they must “place quality and objectivity of scientific activities and information ahead of personal gain or allegiance to individuals or organizationsm” the code states.

Under the new federal policy, misconduct is defined as fabricating, falsifying or plagiarizing research. Safeguards are also included for employees accused of misconduct in the future, including confidentiality.

“The scientific code of conduct will help ensure the American people that the research and analysis we use has been conducted according to the highest standards of the scientific community,” Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said.

The inspector general and a General Accounting Office investigation found that federal and state scientists had sent lynx hair samples from captive lynx, a bobcat and at least one lynx pelt to a laboratory as part of an effort to map and protect the elusive creature’s habitat in 16 states and 57 national forests.

The scientists falsely labeled the samples as having come from national forests in the Northwest. After their actions were reported, the scientists said they were testing the lab’s ability to positively identify lynx through DNA samples and never meant to contaminate the study.

Neither the IG nor the GAO investigations confirmed the scientists’ intentions.

The revelations also sparked congressional hearings, and lawmakers charged the employees were intentionally trying to skew the survey to restrict recreation and natural resource development on federal land.

The scientists who faked the samples worked for the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service and for the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service. These new rules bind only Interior employees.

Jim Beers, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and leading critic of the government’s handling of the lynx issue, dubbed “biofraud,” said the code is meaningless.

The Interior Department is instead “masking” its “failure to publicly renounce environmental activism masquerading as Endangered Species mandates,” Mr. Beers said.

“Federal employees are already prohibited in existing regulations from lying, cheating or stealing while in the performance of their duties. There was, and is, all the necessary civil service regulations necessary to punish any employees who falsify documents, reports or other products of their government employment duties,” Mr. Beers said.

“This Code of Scientific Conduct is merely window dressing to create the illusion of government concern when in fact the lynx hair study falsification was never properly publicized and the perpetrators were never disciplined,” Mr. Beers said.

The employees were orally reprimanded, but later received bonuses. The new code is similar to those embraced by many scientific organizations, including the Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society and Ecological Society of America.

Three of the federal scientists belong to the Wildlife Society, which reportedly found that the three did not violate its set of ethical standards, which say that scientists should “avoid even the suspicion of dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation or unprofessional demeanor.”

Dr. Deborah Brosnan, head of the review panel that set the federal code and president of the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, called the Interior rules a strong code that will build the public’s trust in government science.

The new code will be published in the department’s manual, and employees are being asked to submit their comments.

“We want the new code of conduct to be fully embraced by Interior scientists as an accurate statement of their ideals,” Mrs. Norton said.

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