Latest On New EPA Proposal
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Environmental Protection Agency this week released an updated proposal that would require scientists to make all of their studies' raw data public before the EPA could consider the conclusions. Some scientists fear this could limit the research used for both federal regulations and any aspect of the agency's work.
We're joined now by Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, a director with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Dr. Rosenberg, thanks for being with us.
ANDREW ROSENBERG: Thank you very much, Scott.
SIMON: The EPA says this is all in the name of transparency. The public ought to be able to see the data before it's used for regulations. What's wrong with that?
ROSENBERG: Well, what's wrong with it is a lot of data that's used for public health studies, which is what the EPA primarily relies on, is private medical information. So you don't want people releasing private medical information and making it public. And the EPA is saying, that's OK; we just won't use the studies.
SIMON: Now, I gather that publicizing raw data has drew criticism from even the EPA's own scientific advisory board, and this includes members who were appointed by the Trump administration. They have some of the same reservations?
ROSENBERG: Yes, they had the same reservations that this was not a workable proposal, that it would hinder the work of the agency. But most importantly, it just doesn't meet a scientific standard. It's a longstanding effort by some special interests to try to exclude public health studies and, therefore, make it more difficult to regulate industries that pollute.
SIMON: And what do you consider special interest?
ROSENBERG: Special interest, in this case, is particularly the oil and gas industry. But many polluting industries have said, if we do this, it'll make it much harder for the agency to regulate. I mean, let's take an example. If you were to go to an area like Cancer Alley in Louisiana, and you went around and collected information from residents in the area about their health histories, you certainly would have to promise them that you would keep that information confidential because it's personal information that people don't want to share. And the conclusions of that study might lead you to conclude that, in fact, more needed to be done about one or more activities. And this rule would mean that the EPA couldn't look at that information 'cause you couldn't release the data.
SIMON: Dr. Rosenberg, surely you recall the 1998 Wakefield study that appeared in The Lancet medical journal that said a vaccine caused autism to a dozen children.
SIMON: Now, that article was revealed to be a fraud in 2010, but it's cited to this day by people who are opposed to vaccinations. Is it possible that that harmful fraud would've been avoided if these rules were in effect?
ROSENBERG: No, I don't think it would've been. I mean, that should've been avoided by the journal through the normal peer review process. The difference here is that the EPA is putting a nonscientific standard into the process and the judgment of political appointees on what will be good science or bad science.
SIMON: And what do you say to those Americans who might say, look; I have a right to know why the government reaches these conclusions about regulations?
ROSENBERG: I would say, absolutely, you have a right to know. And, in fact, the studies themselves are available to the public. But that's not the underlying data. That's a different matter. I publish - you know, I published 150 papers. I also review hundreds of papers. I don't look at the raw data. I look at the methodology. I look at the design. I look at the results and the basic statistics on the data. And I look at whether the conclusions are supported by that data. I doubt you would sort of want to look at the raw data from an air pollution study on a weekend evening, but you might want to read the conclusions of the study or understand it more deeply. And for that, you don't need the raw data.
SIMON: Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is a director with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.
ROSENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.