Issue Date: December 4, 2017
Letters to the editor
As a former director of the Science Advisory Board (SAB) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 10 years (1992–2002), I find that the recent announcements by Administrator Scott Pruitt regarding SAB illustrate an unfortunately limited grasp of the structure and function of SAB (Nov. 6, page 16).
SAB was established by Congress to ensure that the scientific foundation on which regulatory decisions are based is sufficiently solid to justify the often costly actions that the agency determines are necessary to protect public health and the environment. That is, SAB focuses on the technical, risk-assessment aspects of the decision-making process, while the agency wrestles with the even more complex risk-management aspects that include economic, geographic, political, and other hot-button issues.
Pruitt’s decision to declare EPA grant holders to be prima facie so hopelessly conflicted that they cannot supply objective assessments—citing no evidence to support the assertion—is prejudicial, arbitrary, and unscientific. Environmental science is a comparatively young field and has been well served by a relatively small cadre of researchers who have invested their research lives in a field that is not as well funded as, say, biomedical research. Therefore, to eliminate—even with the best of intentions—the advice of an entire class of researchers who have proved themselves to be among the leaders in their fields by being awarded grants from EPA is to inflict a significantly damaging, self-imposed wound on EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment.
Similarly, his decision to select SAB members to reflect geographic representation suggests that scientific facts are a hither-to-unknown function of spatial location that will astonish most members of the scientific community and the alert public alike.
Science is serious business, and it neither serves nor is served well by an inappropriate admixture of political considerations. The risk-management arena is the appropriate venue for those issues.
Donald G. Barnes
From the web
Re: EPA grant recipients
Readers commented online on EPA’s decision about science advisers.
Apparently when it is too difficult to deny science outright, their only alternative is to remove it from the equation.
To be absolutely clear, I’m not a fan of Trump Administration policies regarding climate change denial, etc. However, on this specific decision highlighted in this article, I am in full agreement. Academics or others who receive EPA funding should be unable to serve as advisers. In my opinion, academics seem to [be] quite involved with establishing start-up companies, and therein lies a possible conflict of interest; the fact that the academics may have signed appropriate financial conflict-of-interest agreements is really not important here. It comes down to the perception that EPA-funded academics could be biased.
Once again, the Trump team is removing all facts from the discussion. EPA’s primary goal is human and environmental safety. Can Pruitt’s appointees maintain that mission? Let’s be sure to hold them all accountable.
Once again, I am dismayed at the American Chemical Society’s unwillingness to take a stand. You can’t waffle forever or there will be nothing left to waffle about!
Herbert S. Skovronek, Ph.D.
▸ Nov. 20, page 19: The feature story on solid-state batteries misidentified the technology Solid Power licensed from Oak Ridge National Laborato- ry. It is a portfolio of lithium sulfur electrolytes.
▸ Nov. 20, page 40: A Newscripts column on asteroid mining incorrectly stated that there are 11,000 near- Earth asteroids with orbits similar to Earth’s. There are more than 17,000 near-Earth asteroids.
▸ Nov. 27, page 19: In the feature story on recreating historical odors, the molecules putrescine and cadaverine were categorized incorrectly. They are diamines, not thiols.
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