Updated Feb 10, 2022 - Science

House Republicans call for investigation of White House climate official

Jane Lubchenco. Photo: Jonas Rosens/AFP via Getty Images

Republicans on the House Science Committee are asking President Biden to examine whether Jane Lubchenco, a marine scientist who serves as a senior White House science official, violated scientific integrity policies prior to joining the administration.

Why it matters: Lubchenco, the first deputy director of climate and environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is the co-chair of the White House's Scientific Integrity Task Force. The group issued its first report last month, outlining a framework for scientific integrity across federal agencies to help address political interference in science.

The details: Lubchenco, a prominent researcher who served as the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the Obama administration, is facing scrutiny for her role as an editor of a prominent scientific paper that was retracted.

  • Before joining OSTP, Lubchenco edited a paper that was retracted from the journal PNAS in October 2021 because the data underlying the analysis was not the latest available, and because she has a personal relationship with one of the authors (her brother-in-law).
  • Both are violations of the journal's editorial policies.
  • The ranking members of the House Science Committee, as well as its subcommittees on the environment and the oversight and investigations panel, are calling for her participation in the scientific integrity effort to be reviewed.

Fast forward: The White House's Scientific Integrity Task Force report says scientific integrity violations include matters of research integrity that encompass the violations noted in the retraction of the paper Lubchenco edited.

  • In the letter to President Biden today, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) and Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) say they "believe that [Lubchenco's] actions may violate the Administration’s principles of scientific integrity."
  • "Her violation of one of the core tenets of scientific integrity makes her current leadership role very troubling," the letter states.
  • The letter also notes that another study Lubchenco had submitted to the scientific journal Nature on a similar topic relied on some of the same data to support its findings.

The intrigue: The letter comes just two days after White House science adviser Eric Lander, to whom Lubchenco reported, announced his resignation after an investigation found he mistreated OSTP staff members. Once Lander leaves office on or before Feb. 18, Lubchenco will be one of the highest-ranking officials at OSTP.

  • An OSTP official referred back to a previous statement that Lubchenco "agreed there was a conflict and the paper should be retracted, told OSTP, and it was a matter of public record at the time."
  • The official defended the task force report's findings, noting it "clearly addresses situations where there’s a close personal or professional relationship with a peer reviewer.  So there’s no evidence that Jane’s work with the task force resulted in any pulled punch on the topic."

What's next: It's unclear what, if any, action the White House will take, since House Republicans are the minority party with limited investigative authority.

Go deeper: White House scientific integrity panel draws its own scrutiny

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