FWS Officials Interfered in Scientific Study

Date: September 3rd, 2018

Agency: DOI, Federal

Explanation: Research Hindrance

Scientist: Other

On September 3, 2018, the Washington Post reported that officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had “pressured [researchers] to work on a rushed timeline at odds with what they saw as good science.” The researchers — Wyatt Hoback from Oklahoma State University and Douglas Leasure from the University of Georgia — were asked by FWS to assess the risks farming poses to the endangered American burying beetle. FWS wanted to overlay a map of the beetle’s habitat, produced by Hoback and Leasure, with a second map projecting areas likely to be converted to farmland. After reviewing the second map, Hoback and Leasure became concerned that it was not appropriate for use with their map, and that combining the two would show the beetle population to be safer from farming than it actually is. Those concerns were dismissed by FWS officials, who pressured Hoback and Leasure to complete their assessment quickly, telling them that a “compressed timeline” would “guard from any perception of biases.” Hoback and Leasure subsequently withdrew from the assessment. They allege that, while FWS removed their names from the assessment report, a draft “copied word-for-word” a paragraph from a paper they published in 2017.

FWS has disputed the allegations made by Hoback and Leasure, claiming that they are “not support[ed]” by the record. According to FWS, while language from Hoback and Leasure’s paper was used in a “pre-decisional draft” document, it has since been removed.