Limiting Science in Government

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Just before the Thanksgiving Holiday, the New York Times ran a story about EPA’s plan to limit the studies and information that would be used by the agency in evaluating public health risks when setting regulations. The original proposal called, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, was proposed in April of 2018 and would require scientists and researchers to disclose their raw data including confidential medical records before the agency would consider a study’s conclusions. The findings of researchers who did not comply with this rule would be not be considered by EPA when reviewing and setting standards.
The original proposal released during Scott Pruitt’s term as administrator at EPA, was met with huge outcry from the scientific and medical community. According to the Times article, nearly 600,000 comments were submitted, the vast majority of which opposed the proposal including some of the leading scientific organizations in the country such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The prime opposition to the proposed requirements is that many studies linking disease outcomes with pollution and chemical exposures are based on personal health information protected by confidentiality agreements. For example, a critically important study linking mortality and premature deaths to exposure to particulates in the air of urban areas relied on personal health information provided by people who signed confidentiality agreements. The researchers would not have been able to do this study without obtaining these agreements. This research design is standard accepted procedure that has been in place in the scientific community for many years. Under the proposed rule, the results of studies involving the use of personal health information would not be considered by EPA when setting related rules and regulations unless the researchers were willing to break their confidentiality agreements.
Despite enormous opposition from some of the leading scientific and medical organizations and institutions in the country, EPA seems bent on going forward with this plan. In a scathing rebuttal to the Times article, the agency stated that it “still intends to issue a final rule in 2020.
This incredibly bad proposal is consistent with the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine and ignore standard science that does not meet political objectives. If finalized, many legitimate scientific findings will be ignored for political advantage and that’s not only bad science, but it’s bad policy.

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