Magazine article USA TODAY

Blueprint Needed for Science Reform

Magazine article USA TODAY

Blueprint Needed for Science Reform

Article excerpt

In a variety of ways during the Bush Administration, scientific findings, the scientific process, and scientists themselves have come under attack as never before, maintains the Center for Progressive Reform. Washington, D.C. On issues ranging from global warming and environmental protection to consumer heath and safety, the Administration routinely has put politics and ideology ahead of science. CPR charges. With the Bush years coming to a close next month, what should policymakers and the scientific community do to restore respect for the vital role of science in the policy process?

Proposals from CPR--co-authored by member scholars Rena Steinzor and Wendy Wagner, with policy analyst Matthew Shudtz--seek to answer that question. "The attack on science must stop. Unfortunately, the manipulation of science has become so ingrained in our legal and political system that a new president and a new mindset won't be enough to fix the problem. We need affirmative reforms that protect science and scientists," asserts Wagner. a law professor at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and at Case Law School in Cleveland, and co-author of Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research.

"These proposals would protect scientists from harassment. drastically improve conflict-of-interest disclosure requirements, open up industry-funded studies to scrutiny to which they are not now subjected, protect whistleblowers. and more," adds Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. and president of CPR. "Our hope is that implementing them will transform the role of science in the policy process--leaving policymaking to elected officials and appointees, but making it harder for policymakers and industry to reshape or create faux science that conforms to their ideological or economic wishes."

The nine core proposals are:

Level the playing field for publicly and privately regulatory process be made public, but not privately funded research. That unjustifiably shields such data, much of it created by--or for--regulated industries, from scrutiny.

Require disclosure of sponsor-controlled research. Studies have shown that research conducted for private entities is more likely to be skewed. Papers and data submitted to Federal agencies therefore should disclose the degree of control that study sponsors had over the research.

Strengthen adverse effects reporting. Companies that manufacture toxic chemicals have substantial amounts of information regarding the potential risks those chemicals pose to workers, the public, and the environment but. as the recent disclosures over the dangers from chemicals used in manufacturing Teflon demonstrate, companies sometimes withhold critical data. Public and private entities that become aware of potentially significant risks caused by hazardous substances in consumer products. as well as chemicals sold in commerce or used in manufacturing or disposed of in a manner that causes human exposure, must disclose to regulatory authorities any known information regarding these risks.

Separate science from policy, Scientists at Federal agencies sometimes are pressured by political appointees to revise scientific conclusions in studies they prepare for policymakers, An example of the practice was detailed in a 2007 report from the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, which described efforts by a political appointee to pressure agency scientists to revise their research reports so as to undercut enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. …

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