April 30, 2008

Why Politics Should Stay Out of Science

Close to 900 scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have experienced political interference in their work in the last 5 years. This study was conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists who sent out 5,419 questionnaires with 1,586 responses. 889 scientists (60%) said they suffered at least one instance of political interference. 224 scientists had been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document." Full information about the report can be found here.

This shouldn't come as a surprise as the Bush administration's political interference is very pervasive. I'm afraid its at a point where only a complete change of those in charge will release the hold that the corporate handhold has over true study and unbiased information. The EPA scientists obviously have something to say and I wish that they felt like they could come out and say it. The scientists, in fact, are the ones who own the EPA (an organization that means nothing without scientific backing) and all of the information deposited there. They should have ownership over the data, reports, and press releases that the agency constructs. This is bullcrap plain and simple and combined with the pervasive head-turning over the ozone issue leads me to believe that the only ones looking out for our wellbeing is ourselves. I shouldn't have to worry about the government skewing the information to further their corporate measures but I do and you should too.

Here are the report's top findings and quotes:

– 889 scientists (60 percent) said they had personally experienced
at least one instance of political interference in their work over the
last five years.

– 394 scientists (31 percent) personally experienced frequent or
occasional "statements by EPA officials that misrepresent scientists'

– 285 scientists (22 percent) said they frequently or occasionally
personally experienced "selective or incomplete use of data to justify
a specific regulatory outcome."

– 224 scientists (17 percent) said they had been "directed to
inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA
scientific document."

– Of the 969 agency veterans with more than 10 years of EPA
experience, 409 scientists (43 percent) said interference has occurred
more often in the past five years than in the previous five-year
period. Only 43 scientists (4 percent) said interference occurred less

– Hundreds of scientists reported being unable to openly express
concerns about the EPA's work without fear of retaliation; 492 (31
percent) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382
(24 percent) felt they could not do so outside the agency.

"OMB and the White House have, in some cases, compromised the integrity
of EPA rules and policies; their influence, largely hidden from the
public and driven by industry lobbying, has decreased the stringency of
proposed regulations for non-scientific, political reasons," said a
scientist from one of the agency's regional offices. "Because the real
reasons can't be stated, the regulations contain a scientific rationale
with little or no merit."

"Scientific integrity is the bedrock on which the federal science
establishment must rest," said Bill Hirzy, an EPA senior scientist and
senior vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Chapter
280, the union that represents EPA scientists. "Too many EPA scientists
have had to fight interference from political or private sector
interests and fear retaliation for speaking out."

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