GreenYes Archives
[GreenYes Archives] - [Thread Index] - [Date Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]

[GreenYes] Administration's Procedures for Selecting Science Panels


Science Panelists Are Picked
For Ideology, Not Expertise


"All this brings us to how the Department of Health and Human Services is
filling its 258 scientific-advisory panels.

"When we last checked in on Secretary Tommy Thompson, his office had made
some remarkable choices. For a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
panel on safety standards for lead in children's blood , he tapped a doctor
with no relevant research experience (the doctor treats lead-poisoned kids)
and who in June stated in a legal deposition for industry that a lead level
of 70 micrograms per deciliter is harmless (the federal standard is 10).


"That and other industry-linked appointments received wide media coverage
when House Democrats wrote to Mr. Thompson in October that "scientific
decision-making is being subverted by ideology." But the lead panel was only
the opening gambit. HHS is now going beyond packing panels that weigh
existing data to stack committees that determine what research actually will
be conducted in the future.

"Before this, both Republican and Democratic administrations had respected
the decades-old tradition by which scientific panels were assembled. To
insure that only the best researchers served, knowledgeable scientists at
HHS agencies such as the National Institutes of Health or CDC forwarded to
the secretary the names of the leading lights. (Yes, Virginia, science is an
elitist institution, not a democracy.)

"HHS seems to have other ideas. "You need a diversity of opinions to get
good advice and counsel," says William Pierce, HHS spokesman.

"Unfortunately, that has brought the appointment of a scientist who hasn't
been in the forefront of lead research for years and the loss of researchers
who have done seminal work on lead.

"Ideology is also trumping science at CDC's National Institute of
Occupational Safety and Health. One of its study sections weighs the
scientific merits of competing grant proposals on workplace injuries and
decides which get funded. Since its inception, members have been appointed
by NIH scientists based on scientific expertise. Not anymore. Having
rejected those nominees, scientists say, HHS staffers asked them which
presidential candidate they voted for in 2000 and what they think of
stem-cell research and abortion -- issues with no relevance to the section's

"Give HHS credit. Apparently annoyed at what pesky scientists discovered
about workplace injuries and other contentious issues, "They seem to have
decided that they have to prevent the 'wrong' research from getting done in
the first place," one academic says.

Think how much easier life would be, at least for industry and its friends,
if no one had ever studied the effects of lead on the brain. Or if a panel
of the National Academy of Sciences hadn't concluded in 2001 that levels of
arsenic the administration wanted to permit in drinking water would give
thousands of us cancer. The threat, says epidemiologist Dana Loomis of the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who chairs the NIOSH study
section, is that ideology rather than scientific merit will shape the
research agenda. "A free society cannot be afraid of knowledge," he says.

"It goes without saying that every administration is entitled to appoint
people who share its values and political views. But those appointees belong
in policy jobs, not on panels charged with assessing science. The latter
examine existing research and say that this level of lead in 100,000 kids
will produce this degree of cognitive impairment, or this level of arsenic
in drinking water will produce this many cancers. Policy makers decide if
those consequences are acceptable or not, and if preventing them costs too
much. That is a value judgment, on which reasonable people can differ. But
let's not pretend the underlying science is other than it is.


"Simply having an opinion isn't a qualification. If ideology continues to
triumph in the appointment of federal science panels, the inevitable result
will be a terminal loss of public trust in the integrity of science.
Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell    (608) 438-9062

To post to the greenyes list,
email to:

subscription, faq and netiquette info for
this list are available here:
Please be sure to read the faq and netiquette
pages before posting.

[GreenYes Archives] - [Date Index] - [Thread Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]