Under this Bulletin, agencies must undertake a peer review of influential scientific information before they disseminate the information to the public. Different types of peer review are appropriate for different types of information products, and agencies are granted under this Bulletin appropriate discretion to weigh the benefits and costs of using a particular peer review mechanism for a particular information product. This Bulletin leaves the selection of a peer review mechanism for influential scientific information to the agency’s discretion. Based on public and agency comments, we also exempted various types of information products from the requirements of this Bulletin, including time-sensitive medical, health, and safety determinations, in order to ensure that peer review does not unduly delay the release of time-sensitive findings.
This Bulletin also imposes minimum requirements for the peer review of highly influential scientific assessments, which are a subset of influential scientific information. A scientific assessment is an evaluation of a body of scientific or technical knowledge which typically synthesizes multiple factual inputs, data, models, assumptions, and/or applies best professional judgment to bridge uncertainties in the available information. Although the proposed Bulletin imposed heightened peer review requirements on a broader array of information products, we agree with some commenters that, in order to ensure that the Bulletin is not too costly or rigid, more intensive peer review should be restricted to the more important information disseminated by the federal government.
Even for this category of highly influential scientific assessments, the revised Bulletin leaves broad discretion to the agency formulating the peer review plan. In general, an agency conducting a peer review of a highly influential scientific assessment must ensure that the peer review process is transparent by making available to the public a written charge to the peer reviewers, the peer reviewers’ report, and the agency’s response to the peer reviewers’ report. The agency selecting peer reviewers must ensure that the reviewers possess the necessary expertise. In addition, the agency must address reviewers’ potential conflicts of interest (including those stemming from ties to regulated businesses) and independence from the agency.
This revised Bulletin encourages agencies to consider using the panel selection criteria employed by the NAS. The use of a transparent process, coupled with the selection of objective and independent peer reviewers, should improve the quality of government science while promoting public confidence in the integrity of the government’s scientific products.