The commentary by Jurgen Exner is of considerable interest to us at the Institute for Regulatory Science (RSI) (C&EN, Dec. 12, 2005, page 30). At RSI, we use best available science (BAS) rather than sound science to describe the status, as well as the reliability, of scientific information. Briefly, the status of science is divided into three categories: proven science, evolving science, and fallacious information. Each of these has two subcategories. For example, evolving science includes scientific extrapolation and scientific judgment. The reliability of scientific information is divided into four categories: personal opinions, gray literature, peer-reviewed, and consensus-processed.
Exner is correct in encouraging ACS to get involved in the consensus process. There are, however, two limitations to ACS's involvement. First, ACS is qualified to reach a consensus only on issues dealing with chemistry. Despite the temptation to address other scientific issues, ACS's credibility centers on chemical issues. More important, scientists are often tempted to get involved in societal issues derived from science. What qualifies ACS, a committee of ACS, or a chemist to judge a societal issue? Once the science—including its uncertainties—is settled, ACS is as qualified to deal with social issues as are the associations of retailers or booksellers. The same applies to a committee of ACS or a chemist.
At RSI, we have performed more than 300 peer reviews and similar activities and have found that if one limits the scope of the review or the consensus process to science, in the overwhelming majority of cases, disagreements disappear. Amazingly, this is valid even if the subject is contested and the reviewers have divergent social views. Scientists who deal with issues such as global warming would be well-advised to stick to the science and leave the societal implications of the science to those who by virtue of election or appointment are qualified to do so.
I hope that ACS gets involved in scientific issues such as environmental protection and sticks to the requirements of BAS.
A. Alan Moghissi