On August 16, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announced it would bar White House climate official Jane Lubchenco from participating in its publications and activities for five years.
This announcement comes months after House Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) and Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) wrote to President Joe Biden suggesting that Lubchenco's actions "may violate the Administration's principles of scientific integrity," making "her current leadership role very troubling."
Having edited a paper entitled, "A global network of marine protected areas for food," written by her brother-in-law Steven Gaines (with whom she had collaborated several times previously), she violated the science body's conflict-of-interest policy.
Retraction Watch reported that in April, University of Hull marine scientist Magnus Johnson wrote to the editor of the NAS' official journal, noting Lubchenco's family relationship with Gaines: "It seems a little dubious to have a paper edited by an author who is closely aligned with authors on it? I know it can be tricky to find true independence in the upper layers of international science but surely Dr Lubchenko [sic] should have at least declared an interest?"
This was not Lubchenco's only policy violation, however.
The article she edited with and for her brother-in-law claimed that a global network of marine protected areas (MPAs) could improve future fisheries' stocks — an initiative suggested to be "driven more by geopolitics than conservation" in the Yale School of the Environment's E360.
The authors alleged that by "strategically expanding the existing global MPA network to protect an addition 5% of the ocean could increase future catch by at least 20%." However, supporting this claim were antiquated data and "biologically impossible assumptions."
According to the NAS journal's editor in chief, May Berenbaum, this error "cast doubt over the outcome of the peer review process, ultimately leading to the retraction of this paper," which occurred on October 6, 2021.
House Republicans claimed in their February 10 letter to Biden that Lubchenco "violated the very principals of peer review and conflicts of interest she has identified as crucial to Federal scientific integrity."
She had, after all, led the development and publication of the 2022 report "Protecting the Integrity of Government Science."
Axios reported the founder of the American Accountability Foundation's Thomas Jones said in a statement: "The American people deserve leaders in the White House who don’t use their positions of influence to put their thumb on the scales for friends and family."
Earlier this year, Jones wrote to Eric Lander, Biden's top science adviser who resigned as director in February after an internal report found he had demeaned staff. In the letter, Jones suggested that "Dr. Lubchenco's continued service in the White House would rightly give the American people the impression that the rules only [sic] apply to the powerful, and the rules of scientific integrity need not be followed if you are prominent and powerful."
Lubchenco, appointed last year by Joe Biden, currently serves as deputy director for climate and environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She also is co-chair of the White House's Scientific Integrity Task Force. She previously served in the Obama administration as director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Editor's Note: This article has been amended to correct a misspelled name in paragraph nine. The original article listed the name as Mary Berenbaum. The name has since been corrected to May Berenbaum.