On the same day we're hearing that the Obama administration -- faced with disastrous evidence -- may, after all, be changing its policy related to oil drilling in the Gulf, Politics Daily notes that scientific and environmental decisions are more endangered than ever in our political climate. The EPA's Committee on Science Integration for Decision Making has posted draft summaries of interviews with hundreds of EPA staffers that show an alarming pattern:
Environmental Protection Agency staffers have been forced to ignore relevant science, have lacked key monitoring data on human health and environmental impacts, and have worked without crucial information needed to protect the public, according to the preliminary findings of a scientific advisory board.The reports appear on the EPA Web site, and they are full of troubling assertions. For instance, scientists in Region 7, which covers Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, had this to say [PDF]:
Another scientist provided a different historical perspective, describing EPA's evolving efforts to protect ecosystems. It has taken a long time for the public to understand ecosystem impacts and for EPA organizations to adapt and change processes to integrate analysis of ecosystem effects into decision making. He started a remote-sensing group 20 years ago, but decision makers have been slow to use the data for decision making. Emergency response managers use some of the data; enforcement managers sometimes use it, but often there are "tradeoffs between science you think should driving things and the real politik" of the decisions actually made.
Yet another scientist responded that Regions have developed a process for using science. Regions try to be consistent, transparent, and conservative. They follow policy set by Headquarters and "fear going rogue." There are impediments to doing original science or using new science, because new information may not be peer reviewed or fit with existing policy.
Emphasis mine. The block on innovation is particularly troubling, considering that these same regions have reported not only an increase in attracting top talent -- the tanking economy has actually helped the EPA in this way -- but also a dependence on post-doctoral candidates. If the nation's best and brightest are being routinely trained to avoid new methods and tactics, that bodes very ill for our scientific future.
One important thing to note: so far, the reports I've read don't lay the blame squarely on one administration or another. True, most of them are discussing recent events -- Bush-era events and slights -- but they're talking about politicians at both the national and state levels, Democrats and Republicans. What this report will most likely show is that the stifling of scientific data that doesn't agree with the party line isn't limited to one side of the aisle.