Chief Science Correspondent
It's no secret that the GOP-controlled House Science Committee is about anything but science. The Committee's latest mission as of Tuesday: proposing legislation requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to disclose it's so-called "secret science" agenda.
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) made this statement: "Over the past two years, the Science, Space, and Technology Committee has repeatedly requested that the EPA release the data it uses to justify virtually every Clean Air Act regulation proposed and finalized by the Obama administration. As one example, by its own estimates the EPA’s proposed limits on ozone will cost taxpayers $90 billion per year, making it the most costly regulation the federal government has ever issued. Some of the data in question is up to 30-years-old." Smith called the EPA's "hidden and flawed," saying that the organization handpicks scientists to confirm their research.
That's pretty ironic, considering that this is a group that challenged the 97 percent of scientists who agree on the existence of man-made climate change during a hearing last March. Who's handpicking now?
Smith isn't completely off-base in his call for transparency in science. We should be questioning scientists' results, confirming observations and constantly reanalyzing data. That's how science works; it's meant to function as an evolution of new ideas.
However, it is clear that Smith is not actually interested in science. Unfortunately, the Committee has a recent history of attacking the EPA, along with a list of other scientific and environmental organizations, in favor of corporate interests.
If Smith was actually interested in the validity of environmental research, he would know that the EPA enforces a well-established peer review system that ensures their researchers' data is as accurate as possible. Smith's demands for regulation and review were already met... in 2003, when a version of the current system was first introduced.
Every EPA researcher is required to develop a proposal and estimated timeline before pursuing a research project, meeting a set of established. As a result of the 2002 Quality Act, these researchers must adhere to a standard set of guidelines on how they generate data, based on the nature of their research question. The researchers are assigned a group of reviewers with extensive experience in the field - much more, I'm guessing, than Lamar Smith.
These reviewers are called in either from the EPA or an outside organization. They are generally completely unconnected to the project, unless the field in question is so narrow that no other outside expert can be found. The reviewers analyze the data and critique the study, assessing whether the generated data allows the researchers to adequately answer their question of interest. The researchers use these comments to modify the project, if necessary, and then submit the final reports for publication.
How do I know this? The EPA's entire 190-page peer review protocol (as of 2012) is available on their website. It took me about five minutes of browsing to find and download it.
But it doesn't stop there. Keep searching and you'll find that reports of the EPA's recent studies, complete with both data and the original reviewers' comments, are available online as well.
Secret science? I'd say not.
“If EPA is being accused of 'secret science' because we rely on real scientists to conduct research, and independent scientists to peer review it, and scientists who’ve spent a lifetime studying the science to reproduce it - then so be it,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said last April.
A scientist's research can be biased, and their research should therefore be reviewed by an outside source (click here for our recent article on the problems of bias in science). Anyone can formally challenge a peer-reviewed publication, even non-experts who have familiarized themselves with the field and study.
However, attacking the entire EPA without even researching their work isn't the way to fix that problem.
It's a shame that the House Science Committee has fallen to the polarized partisan politics that have taken over much of our government and culture today. Our nation's fights over ideologies have, in many ways, clouded common sense and reason.
As long as the House Science Committee continues to attack science researchers without understanding their work or the regulations they follow to ensure the quality of their findings, any bill that they attempt to push forward is a blatant waste of the government's time.