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Lawmakers Urged To Respect Science, Avoid Politicization Of Data
Marty Coyne
Greenwire senior reporter

One of the few academics to serve in Congress called on federal lawmakers to speak out against what he characterized as the misuse of research in environmental regulation and other areas of public policy.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), a clinical psychologist and a Pacific Lutheran University administrator, made his comments at a Washington, D.C., conference hosted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, where academics, environmental groups and industry officials debated how scientific research is used to protect the public from threats ranging from pollution to prescription drugs.

Scientists must fight the politicization of science because adequate public debate "and the underpinnings of the federal decisionmaking process itself" are at stake, according to the three-term Washington lawmaker.

Virtually all types of research produced by federal agencies are susceptible to unfair politicization by members of the executive branch and Congress who seek to limit what types of questions are asked and what outcomes are reached. Elected officials are also prone to constrain certain research methods and cut funding for controversial research, Baird said.

Research on controversial topics or that using controversial methods must be funded, according to Baird. He urged the audience to imagine how the world would be different without the science produced by Galileo, who was initially ridiculed for suggesting that the Earth was round rather than flat.

Ensuring an science that produces "real results" not only requires sacrifice of hard work but requires the risk of defending it against political attacks, Baird said.

Another presenter, Jim Tozzi, former White House deputy director of information and regulatory affairs, praised Baird for an "excellent speech," but said scientists should avoid involving themselves too much in the political process. "A lot of scientists go into their business because they don't want to be street fighters," said Tozzi, who now leads the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness, which lobbies the White House and federal agencies on behalf of industry clients.

Tozzi's primary aim was to show how the 2001 Data Quality Act, a law trumpeted by sound science advocates, has been implemented. Tozzi told conference participants that the law has made the process of lobbying the executive branch on regulations more transparent and open to public scrutiny.

But critics like Sean Moulton, an analyst at the nonprofit group OMB Watch, said the law has been used by industry to slow the implementation of important regulations. "There are still problems with transparency and accuracy of the data being given to the administration," Moulton said.

Eric Shaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project said at a separate panel discussion that the executive branch regularly issues environmental and public health rules without spelling out all the benefits provided by those rules. "It's something we probably need to change in law," he said.

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