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Scientist Removed From EPA Panel Due To Industry Opposition 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the let-the-market-decide dept.
Beeftopia writes "The relationship between regulator and regulated is once again called into question as industry pressure leads to a scientist's removal from an EPA regulatory panel. From the article: 'In 2007, when Deborah Rice was appointed chair of an Environmental Protection Agency panel assessing the safety levels of flame retardants, she arrived as a respected Maine toxicologist with no ties to industry. Yet the EPA removed Rice from the panel after an intense push by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry lobbying group that accused her of bias. Her supposed conflict of interest? She had publicly raised questions about the safety of a flame retardant under EPA review.'"
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Scientist Removed From EPA Panel Due To Industry Opposition

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  • Well, YEAH! (Score:5, Funny)

    by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:02PM (#42887141) Homepage Journal

    You can't have a SCIENTIST on a panel about pollution! It interfere's with Gawd's Will!

    • note (Score:5, Funny)

      by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:03PM (#42887163) Homepage Journal

      * That's Neil Gawd, CEO of Toxic Shit Enterprises, of course.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That makes no sense. How can you say it interferes with God's will if he made the world itself? That would be counterproductive. Obviously, there real reson is money... and money is very important. Some times, it's more important than the environment

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm glad I don't live near you. Go ahead, fuck up your own environment so you kids have no chance of breeding. Evolution in action.

        The environment is ALWAYS more important than money.

    • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:25PM (#42887413) Journal

      Every single one of those scientists is not only biased, but has a substantial conflict of interest. All of them are carbon-based lifeforms that will react negatively to a wide range of chemicals such as mercury, arsenic and practically every petrochemical in existence. The EPA should clear the entire regulatory panel and re-staff it with robots who will only take their charge from a power source that will not be disclosed to them. Ideally their finishes should also be solvent-resistant and UV-stable and their cooling system capacity should be generous.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        but then they'll just answer "bite my shiny metal ass"

    • UK Govt did this with Dr David Nutt.

      Govt: Dr Nutt, go do research into how dangerous drugs are and report back. We need more strings to the War on Drugs bow.
      Dr Nutt: Drugs aren't as bad as you people make out. These stats clearly show some interesting things, E.g. You are more likely to die riding a horse than from an E overdose, and there have been no deaths directly attributed to overdose on cannabis in the entire documented history of mankind.
      Govt: Oh! Oh, wow... This is embarassing. You're fired.

      (Obv
  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya@gmMENCKENail.com minus author> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:06PM (#42887195)

    Rice's travails through the EPA's Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS, program reveal the flip side of industry's sway. Not only does the ACC back many scientists named to IRIS panels, it also has the power to help remove ones it doesn't favor.

    So... what's the pre-flip good side of the industry's sway?

    Can't they just say -- industry has full control and can both nominate people they like and cut out people they do not like.

    • by grcumb (781340)

      So... what's the pre-flip good side of the industry's sway?

      It's win/win: Heads I win; tails you lose.

      You weren't looking for a downside, were you?

  • by lesincompetent (2836253) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:11PM (#42887251)
    Brought to you by the country with legalized bribery.
  • by AdamStarks (2634757) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:12PM (#42887271)

    The summary makes it seem like this just happened, but she was actually removed back in 2007. Why is this coming up now, 6 years later?

    • A) Cover up!

      or

      B) No one cares...

      Since this is Slashdot, I'll go with option A.

    • by mcelrath (8027) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:56PM (#42887777) Homepage

      Because a study of those chemicals was recently completed [nih.gov], and guess what? She was right and they're really harmful to humans. California is now overhauling their rules [ewg.org] on use of the stuff...

      • by Sentrion (964745) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:11PM (#42887953)

        Actually, those chemicals are only harmful to delicate Californians. Here in Texas we have oil running through our veins, along with lead, mercury, arsenic, and many other colorful elements, so we've adapted to be tough enough to take on most of the cancer causing pollutants industry can throw at us. Sure, natural selection is still working through its slow process so we expect many bizarre birth defects and mutations, but we're convinced we will be much fitter after all is said and done.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Actually, those chemicals are only harmful to delicate Californians and those tree hugging liberals in Austin. Here in Texas we have oil running through our veins, along with lead, mercury, arsenic, and many other colorful elements, so we've been blessed by the almighty to be tough enough to take on most of the cancer causing pollutants industry can throw at us. Sure, intelligent design is still working through its slow process so we expect many bizarre birth defects and mutations, but we're convinced we will be much fitter after all is said and done.

          There, as an Austinite, I fixed that for you.

        • by BlueStrat (756137)

          Actually, those chemicals are only harmful to delicate Californians. Here in Texas we have oil running through our veins, along with lead, mercury, arsenic, and many other colorful elements, so we've adapted to be tough enough to take on most of the cancer causing pollutants industry can throw at us. Sure, natural selection is still working through its slow process so we expect many bizarre birth defects and mutations, but we're convinced we will be much fitter after all is said and done.

          I think you're confusing Texas and Texans with Helghan and the Helghast.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killzone [wikipedia.org]

          Strat

      • by Livius (318358)

        So, she was fired for bias but now it turns out that her alleged bias was based on reality.

        Clearly she had the wrong kind of bias.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Being right does not absolve you of pre existing bias. The point of the panel was to look at all the evidence and then come to a conclusion based on the facts. You don't want someone heading the panel that has already decided before they start.

          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            A good scientist often has a good idea of where the results are leading long before they have publishable science. That doesn't mean they have an unwarranted bias, just intuitional knowledge of the field.

      • That's interesting, and the article should have included that information. "Scientist Removed From EPA Panel Due To Industry Opposition is Vindicated 6 Years Later" would be a perfectly relevant story.

        Unfortunately, the closest thing I can find in the article is "Two years later, the EPA moved to cease production of decaBDE, a chemical it views as a possible carcinogen. In Maine, Rice's research had supported a state ban on the chemical.", which I guess means this article would have been relevant in 2009.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Tailhook (98486)

        and guess what?

        The process worked despite her removal. It wasn't actually necessary for her to abrogate the pretense of impartiality expected of a scientist working on behalf of the public. It isn't actually necessary for public institutions to be populated with rabid activists for the public to be protected.

        It is better that the government protect its credibility by spacing abusive and reckless fools like her. Unfortunately that's not what happened. She still works for the US government. She just got pulled from an E

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TapeCutter (624760)

          It isn't actually necessary for public institutions to be populated with rabid activists for the public to be protected.

          The US seems to suffer this problem more than other western nations, it's full of rabid pro-industry "activists".

          The process worked despite her removal.

          And came to the same conclusion. Being pro-reality does not equate to being anti-industry.

          reckless fools like her

          Her research was impartial and correct, there is not a shred of evidence that she is a "rabid activist". She did what a public servant is supposed to do, she "spoke truth to power", unfortunately the system is such that she was basically talking to herself. That's not her fault, that's the fault of the syste

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because we need something new to distract people from Pres. Obama's lackluster performance.

      Remember who was president in 2007? It's all his fault.

    • by AdamWill (604569)

      Footer reads:

      "Toxic Influence is an ongoing series of reports exploring the nexus between industry, science and policy. This story is being produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity."

      Basically, they're digging through recent history to find questionable stuff that wasn't really highlighted at the time.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      One more thing to blame on G W Bush?

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:14PM (#42887283)

    American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry lobbying group that accused her of bias. A what? An industry lobbying group? Oh thank the heavens someone without any bias was there to moderate proceedings and ensure that objective and measured assessments were being made.

    Lobbying is great. It means if you have tons of money you have influence. As long as your corporate or social structure brings in piles of cash you can have dominant political power. I wonder how different the political landscape would look if you removed lobbying and campaign contributions and campaign war chests from play.

  • Public Comments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sycodon (149926) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:14PM (#42887285)

    Seems to me that the government oversight of anyl product should be a confidential process.

    Do peer reviewers of scientific papers come out and call something great or bad during the review process?

    Do auditors come out and give off the cuff remarks about what they are seeing during the audit?

    So if there are rules that say she she should keep her trap shut during the review process then she should be removed since it shows a proclivity to substitute her opinion for that of the review panel.

    If not, then there should be. The review process is a process and if it is to be legitimate, then you have to follow the process. Otherwise, why have it all?

    • Re:Public Comments (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:28PM (#42887439)
      If it's a scientific review panel, you're supposed to review the evidence presented, not (ab)use your position on the panel to publicly promote your own opinion. We all have preconceived notions on most subjects, but in science you're supposed to be able to set those aside and fairly review new evidence. If you can't do that, you're in the wrong place for peer review.
      • by icebike (68054)

        Exactly.

        Had the panel been assigned to APPROVE a chemical, and the panel was chaired by the principal investigator who performed all the safety testing for the manufacturer, wouldn't that be considered totally unethical? Wouldn't everybody be screaming about that?

        She should not have accepted the position on the panel, much less the chairperson. She should have only been called as a witness.

        You should't get to peer review your own work.

    • by neonv (803374)

      In addition, she published a review a few years earlier claiming that the flame retardant should be banned. She had a strong opinion before being appointed to the committee, thus she was biased, and so should have never been appointed. In this case the industry was right. She didn't have an open mind coming in.

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        Was she biased or just more knowledgeable and ahead of everyone else on the subject? Subsequent research has borne out her statements.

    • Do peer reviewers of scientific papers come out and call something great or bad during the review process?

      She never did. Her study had been commissioned and published by the State of Maine two years prior to the time she was even appointed to the EPA.

      Do auditors come out and give off the cuff remarks about what they are seeing during the audit?

      She never made "off the cuff remarks" about that flame retardant. When asked about any public positions she had taken on chemicals during her appointment, she stated that she had none.

      And to this day, she regards the scientific study she undertook for her employer two years prior not a public position, but just work that she undertook for her employer at the time.

  • Sadly unsurprising (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bysmuth (1362639) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:14PM (#42887297)
    Last year, the Chicago Tribune ran an incredible series of investigative articles on the dangers of flame retardant chemicals and the extent to which industries profit from their manufacturing (http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/flames/index.html). In light of their unfortunate conclusions, this report is hardly surprising.
    • And thus we demonstrate the fallacy of assuming there is a problem with the "free market", when in fact we have an entire industry (flame retardant chemicals) created by government regulations (the FTC requires certain manufactured goods to meet certain standards of flame resistance), which then creates a new business opportunity for lobbyists to support the new industry that is now threatened by additional regulations from other federal agencies (EPA).

      No wonder the citizens in the Capital are living the g

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's not proof either way though. Yes, there are problems with some of the flame retardant chemicals, but there is also a problem with little children being on FIRE!

        So, no, I'm not saying that I have the numbers to prove that move children die of skin cancer caused by flame retardant chemicals than of burning to death. Simply that regulation was not the issue. There needs to be something done about burning children, and if our first attempt is sub-optimal, then the science has to lead us to the next one,

        • Oh, right, because faceless bureaucrats deciding what is best for your children is sooo much more effective than ensuring information is true and available and letting their parents decide. After all, when it's a bureaucrat's job, if they make a mistake they can change course quickly. Oh, wait, they can't. But at least they can admit they made a mistake and and end the program. Oh, yea, that never happens. Well, someone else will add a NEW regulation to fix that, and any problems it causes can be fixed

  • by RocketRabbit (830691) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:15PM (#42887309)

    The EPA's function is more to give the common fool the idea that the government cares about the environment, than it is to defend the environment. It is quite similar to the FDA in this regard. Both agencies have been headed by flacks from the industries they are supposed to be regulating, which is a clear conflict of interest.

    Just another classic case of corruption in the government.

    • by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:48PM (#42888443)

      I would just like to take this opportunity to remind die-hard libertarians that the solution is not to do away with these agencies that are supposed to provide oversight. It is to change the appointment rules and process so that the people who are appointed cannot have worked in the industry within a certain amount of time, and cannot have any conflict of interest with the industry (e.g. close relative is an industry exec).

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        There is a catch 22 in not hiring from industry. On one hand they may be influenced by industry. On the other hand they are the people who know most about the industry. Would you really want regulations being made by someone with no experience in the industry? That is a recipe for bad legislation.

        If anything it should be the other way around. That someone who has worked in a regulatory area can not work for industry for a certain period of time.

        • It's not really a catch 22. People from the industry are in a revolving door system, where they go work in these agencies for a while and then get bonuses and better positions based upon how much work they did for the company while in government.

          I could see hiring from industry, if you then banned subsequent participation or investment in that industry. Including spouses. As it stands now, hiring from industry ensures that nothing useful gets done, except those things useful for the industry itself. Thi

          • by jklovanc (1603149)

            Not hiring from industry ensures that armatures make critical decisions.

            So we both agree that the revolving door must stop. Coming out of industry should be easy; getting back in should be hard. Regulators need experience in how industry works so they can understand how to write solid regulations that industry can not get around.

            Please be careful with using absolutes like "nothing". There are many regulations that get enacted that industry does not like. Some things do get done. Using absolutes that are eas

            • I will use absolutes when necessary, and in this case there is nothing useful that revolving door industry flacks will accomplish in their tenures in government.

              It would be better to use rank amateurs and observation of the sleaze tactics, along with abilities to enforce and odify regulations to keep up with side stepping, than it would be to put experienced industry flacks and shills in charge of these ever more laughable agencies. The current policies are fraudulent bordering upon treasonous.

      • I would like to take this opportunity to remind die-hard statists that almost all of these agencies end up serving the interests of those companies that they are supposed to be regulating, eventually. Proposing that the very people (congress) who are paid off by large agribusinesses make laws that hurt their employers is the height of statist delirium.

        I mean, sure, it sounds good to have non-flacks heading these agencies, but it just can not be done without a very complete reform of the election process.

        In

  • I don't think this is such a big issue. If someone who is a judge has publicly espoused opinions on a case by case level regarding the Constitutionality, they are likely going to be viewed as biased. The reason for this is very important: we want to be assured of government officials not coming into a job with bias. We want to them to decide ON the job, on a case by case basis while acting in the official capacity of the position, with the ALL the facts that someone in THAT position is privy to. If they
    • On the other hand, if someone had just reviewed the constitutionality of bill in another context, that's not bias, that's actually being educated.

    • by Livius (318358)

      The only person with no bias is the person with no education?

  • That name seems to be cursed

  • I'd better buy a gun since we don't seem to have a function government at this time.
  • Just look at how much government policy is about protecting corporate profits. More often than not the people writing the rules work for the companies the rules cover. Tell me how hiding health concerns benefits the public? We need more people like this scientist not fewer! For everyone they fire ten more will think twice about standing up to the corporations.
  • The lack of any logic whatsoever wins again. Bravo guv'ment.
  • I would hold a scientist on a review panel to the same standard as I would a jury. If the jury members made statements about the guilt or innocence of a defendant before the trial was over they wold be removed from the jury. The same thing applies to a review panel. The review is not over and the evidence is not complete yet someone is make statements about the safety of the chemicals under review. I have nothing to do with the chemical industry but I would want that scientist removed.

    • by _Ludwig (86077)

      That sounds not that far removed from “teaching the controversy.” Should scientists who have made negative statements about Intelligent Design be excluded from textbook committees?

      Why do you believe the standards of a criminal trial should transfer to a review of chemical safety? Juries aren't allowed to ask questions or investigate, while that is expressly the function of this regulatory panel.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Should scientists who have made negative statements about Intelligent Design be excluded from textbook committees?

        She was the chair of the committee and therefore has much more power than a regular committee member. As chair there is an even higher standard for impartiality. If one has already made negative statements about something they should be excluded as they have already made up their mind and and "investigation" is worthless.

        Juries aren't allowed to ask questions or investigate, while that is expressly the function of this regulatory panel.

        Juries are allowed to ask questions about the law but they are not allowed to come to a conclusion before the trial and deliberation is over. The key here is to have an open mind until the

  • You can't have someone with a sense of right and wrong in an agency like the EPA... That would completely unbalance the industry!

    Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture [wikipedia.org]
    (seriously, read it, and pressure congress to fix it)

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