Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Anti-Trump activists calling for more peer review in government are giving conservatives exactly what they want


A protest on behalf of something as nebulous as “science” could mean anything, really. But when thousands of men, women, and children arrived in Washington, D.C., last month for a “March for Science,” their prime concern appeared to be that objective, scientific facts were losing ground in government. “What do we want? Evidence-based science!” protestors shouted in D.C. and around the world. “When do we want it? After peer review!” This concern feels even more pressing now, in light of recent moves from the Trump administration to sever ties with independent scientists and even redefine what it means to be an “expert” in a given scientific field. The government’s scientific advisory boards, comprising academic scientists and other subject-area experts, have for decades been assigned the task of evaluating research data and its relationship to making regulations. But their work is being challenged from the top: On May 5, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt fired nine members of a prominent review board and announced they might be replaced by industry scientists. The same day, the Department of the Interior announced that the work of a slew of advisory boards would be frozen, as Secretary Ryan Zinke was “reviewing [their] charter and charge.” Pro-science activists are predictably enraged. Could the institution of peer review—a cornerstone of the scientific process and the hallmark of scientific rigor—really be dismantled in this way? But the administration’s opponents should be careful with their calls for greater scrutiny of data. For the last 25 years, conservatives have tried to interfere with regulation by attaching its approval to ever-more-complicated machineries of validation. The GOP and business interests tend to want more peer review, not less of it. Yet in the last few months, their self-interested position has been taken up with unlikely and unwitting glee by the Trump-hating masses...more

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