For many researchers, the Bush administration will be best remembered for the way it has manipulated scientific advice for political ends. The latest evidence of this tactic is a controversial proposal to change the way US air-quality standards are set, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Washington DC.
When the Environmental Protection Agency said last week that it would beef up air-quality controls by cutting ground-level ozone limits from 80 parts per billion to 75 ppb, it seemed like good news. Ozone can trigger respiratory problems and heart attacks. The new rules should save lives and, by cutting pressure on hospitals, might create financial benefits that outweigh the cost of implementing the changes.
However, around a year ago the EPA's own scientific advisers told the agency that there was "overwhelming" evidence that an even tighter limit of 70 ppb would save thousands more lives. The decision to ignore that advice has angered public-health groups.
Now worse may be to come. The administration wants to reform the process for setting air-quality standards and may allow political appointees to help draft the advisory reports, a job that is currently in the hands of researchers. The UCS fears this will allow the White House to suppress this kind of independent scientific advice in future.
"The interference in science has been a consistent theme of this administration for many years now," says Tim Donaghy of the UCS. "The administration has changed the rules along the way so that, when the next administration gets into office, the role science plays in setting regulations will be greatly diminished."
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From issue 2648 of New Scientist magazine, 21 March 2008,
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Posted by The Last Orion at 11:17 AM