Scientists, professors, environmentalists and even many ordinary people are furious at EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s decision to require public disclosure of data used for research.
While this is certainly a new policy that the EPA has never embraced before, the push for transparency in this field is hardly new. Following is a peek into why the new research guidelines are so polarizing, and what they would mean for current and future scientific research.
For years, the EPA has relied on scientific research that has never been independently reproduced. The primary reason for this is the fact that many people who provide data for a particular research project do so on the condition that they remain anonymous. This means that researchers cannot tell anyone, even the government, the names of people who participated in a particular study. Without vital information regarding the people in a study, other researchers have no way of proving on their own that a particular study is fully accurate. Even so, this has not stopped the EPA from issuing important guidelines and laws based on these secretive studies.
One example of this was Michelle Bell’s 2004 study on short-term exposure to air pollution. Bell analyzed large quantities of health data from people in nearly one hundred urban areas around the United States, and came to the conclusion that even a short amount of exposure to air pollution can cause harm to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Her study was used by the Obama administration to craft the Clean Power Plan, which was later blocked by the Supreme Court after 27 states, various business groups, and a number of companies took the government to court over the implementation of the plan.
It is important to note that the Clean Power Plan, had it been implemented, would have devastated the economy of a number of states, negatively affecting the lives of millions of people. Businesses, state governments and millions of ordinary citizens would have had their lives turned upside down due to research projects that have never been replicated.
When viewed in this light, EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s decision to require public disclosure of all raw data used in scientific research for EPA-related work doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Scientists and researchers would still be able to conduct studies and research projects as they have been; however, the EPA wouldn’t consider using these studies as the basis of government regulations unless the raw data could be made available for others to replicate the research.
The impact of this decision is sure to be felt in the scientific community both now and in the future. Scientists around the country are furious that they would have to choose between providing anonymity to people who agree to participate in the study and having their work used to craft important government regulations.
Given the fact that Scott Pruitt has never been a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency, many are accusing him of creating this rule to stymie scientific research in general. The backlash is understandable, given the fact that scientists and researchers are used to not having the accuracy of their studies questioned by the EPA. Even so, the idea of requiring that studies used by the EPA disclose the raw data behind their research is not new.
In March 2017, the House of Representatives approved the HONEST Act, a bill that would require that all EPA regulations be based on publicly available scientific data. Conservative advocates have long criticized the government for basing guidelines on secretive scientific research, especially given the fact that the research is funded by taxpayers in the first place.
Naturally, the move to require scientific data to be more accessible to the general public is likely to remain controversial for a long time. Scientists have a point when they note that it will be hard to get people to participate in studies if their personal data become public information. At the same time, it is also hard to make people accept government regulations that will ruin their livelihood when the data behind this research has never been independently verified. Requiring scientists to make their raw data available to others if the study will affect government regulations helps to ensure that millions of lives are not upended as the result of a single study.
~ Conservative Zone