How Federal 'Guesswork' Misleads Consumers
In recent years, CR has featured many articles concerning the scientific basis - or lack thereof - for regulatory actions by the federal government.
Such actions have great practical impact on consumers, since they often involve banning or limitation of services and products, denying access to medications and technologies, and imposing burdens on firms and individuals - all affecting the availability, cost, and quality of things that we consume. Environmental, workplace, health, and safety measures of all types rest on such allegedly scientific findings.
As we have frequently reported, the "science" behind many of these decisions isn't very scientific. Rather, all too often, it rests on assumptions and procedures that are little more than guesswork, and in many cases reflect a mind-set geared to ever-more-intrusive regulation. In some instances, supposedly scientific standards are ignored, or altered, to fit a preconceived conclusion.(*)
Concerns about these matters are underscored by a new report on federal regulatory policy - Choices In Risk Assessment: The Role of Science Policy in the Environmental Risk Management Process - sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Despite the dry-sounding title, and understated official prose, this is an explosive document. What it tells us is that the federal regulatory process not only substitutes assumptions and "science policy" for knowledge, but that these assumptions are so heavily tilted toward banning things as to defy common logic.
Among these assumptions are: 1) that any substance causing tumors in laboratory rats, administered in the most massive doses, must be carcinogenic for human beings; and 2) that there is no "threshold" for such dangers, so that even the tiniest quantities must be forbidden. Other factors enter in, but these two notions by themselves are enough to ban almost any substance on which the regulators set their sights.
Interestingly, as this new report makes clear, these impossible standards have been waived when the regulators decide that they would like to do so (see box, page 12). Thus the standards are invoked to ban some things, but not others. Everything therefore depends on the discretion of the regulators, and/or political-ideological pressures in favor of banning something or letting it stay on the market. Whatever else this may be called, it doesn't sound very much like "science."
The reality of this process, and the degree to which assumptions and "science policy" are used in place of science, are seldom reported to the public. The result is not only to substitute guesswork for data, but also to mislead consumers as to what has been occurring. The following excerpts from the new report highlight these aspects of the subject. …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: How Federal 'Guesswork' Misleads Consumers. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: Consumers' Research Magazine. Volume: 78. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 1995. Page number: 10+. © 1999 Consumers' Research, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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