Monday, September 30, 2013

Obama & The Anti-Science Of EPA's War On Coal

. . . The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. . . .

President Barack Obama, Memorandum, Subject: Scientific Integrity, 9 March 2009

Ah, remember those idealistic days of 2009, when our Moralizer In Chief Barack Obama promised to "restore" scientific integrity to our government. Well, those days are long gone.

Obama is using the EPA to conduct a war on coal, promoting new guidelines under the Clean Air Act that will stop the creation of any new coal fired power plants and force the shut down of many existing plants as they reach a point of needing to upgrade. Since coal is the primary source for our nation's electricity needs, this will end up costing our nation dearly - with the poor and middle class being the hardest hit.

The justification for these new guidelines is that they will save lives. The EPA is basing this assertion on two longitudinal, observational scientific studies, the Harvard Six Cities Study (HSCS) and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II):

Both studies showed that exposure to fine particle air pollution (that is, particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, or PM2.5) was linked with increased mortality. Their results provide the basis for most EPA regulations targeting air quality because, the EPA claims, such regulations will save a large numbers of lives.

There are some real questions about the reliability of the conclusions reached by the researchers. For Instance:

The association of PM2.5 with mortality shows geographic heterogeneity – no such association is seen in the western US, where the climate is dry and PM2.5 make-up differs from that in the eastern US.

Second, the results of the studies have been presented in a way that focuses narrowly on PM2.5 and precludes putting the association in perspective relative to other predictors of mortality, including cigarette smoking, income, and other factors.

Third, reports from these two studies tend to cite only supporting studies and to ignore studies that have not found an association of PM2.5 with mortality."

But here is the kicker. Those two studies are . . . wait for it . . . secret.

What what what?

Yes, the EPA is claiming that the data, meta-data, computations - in short, everything about the "scientific studies" that would allow the studies to be subject to vetting and reproduction (i.e., the scientific method) - are secret and cannot be released.

This is the polar opposite of scientific integrity.

And, believe it or not, it gets worse, the same people who "carried out the studies used by the EPA as the basis for regulation and are also involved in the implementation of EPA policy."

The ostensible reason given for not releasing the information regarding these studies is the claim that to do so would violate third party confidentiality rules:

[I]f third parties are given access to the data, the identity of study participants could become public, in violation of the researchers’ guarantee of confidentiality. The lead researcher on the CPS II study has made this argument. Supporters of the subpoena argue that the dataset could be stripped of personal identifiers.

In fact, the issue of confidentiality appears to be a dodge since large datasets of this type are routinely stripped of personal identifiers to protect subject confidentiality and enable use by researchers.

The EPA should be shut down over this. Republicans have been trying to have the EPA provide this data for over two years. The EPA has steadfastly refused. Republicans have now filed a subpoena to which Democrats have objected - their grounds:

The ranking Democratic member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D – TX) characterized Chairman Smith’s action as an attempt to make the data available to “industry hacks” in order to discredit the research and weaken clean air regulation.

The scientific method - the ability to pour over another's experiment line by line and either prove it or disprove it - is the sina que non of scientific integrity. Rep. Johnson either doesn't seem to know that or otherwise puts it in a back seat to politics. This, from Obama's EPA, is just politicized science at its very worst.

1 comment:

/The elephant's child said...

When they don't have statistics, they just make them up anyway. Physicians know how to treat asthma, but have never been able to identify the cause. The EPA is not only sure of the cause, they can predict how many (children of course)will die from asthma in future years.