Scientists who work for the Food and Drug Administration are feeling more optimistic about the future of their agency than they did back in 2006, according to a survey just out from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
But they still report concerns about outside pressures on the FDA's decisions and policies.
"We know that 652 respondents, more than double the number in 2006, agreed that the FDA is moving in the right direction," says Francesca Grifo, director for scientific integrity at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which surveyed about a thousand FDA scientists back in 2006 and again in 2011. "That is significant and important progress."
Still, the survey also found that hundreds of scientists remain worried about the influence of political or business interests on the FDA's regulatory decisions.
For example, 265 scientists, or 30 percent of the respondents, felt that political interests carried "a lot of weight in the FDA's final decisions." Grifo says, "That number should be zero. That is just simply too high."
And 25 percent of of respondents felt that business interests had "a lot of weight in the FDA's final decisions."
Overall, though, compared with 2006, more respondents said they respected the integrity and professionalism of their agency's leaders. And more scientists felt that their direct supervisor would stand behind scientists who put forth positions that might be controversial.
President Obama has been pushing to improve scientific integrity at government agencies, and they have been drafting new policies that are supposed to make sure that the science behind decisions isn't altered or suppressed by political officials. The president's top science advisory has called for all of those policies to be made public by March 30.
One thing that's changed since 2006 is that the FDA has a blog (launched last December) to weigh in on stuff like this. "FDA continues to make major strides in the area of scientific integrity," writes Jesse Goodman, FDA's chief scientists officer, in a post this morning. He notes that the response rate was low in the latest survey and also the one conducted in 2011.
But there's no reason to ignore the findings. He draws attention to two that should be of particular concern:
"Some scientists still fear retribution for sharing concerns about the FDA.
Some believe that business interests frequently influence science-based regulatory decisions."