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

  • 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 briancox2 (2417470) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:17PM (#42887325) Homepage Journal
    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 come into a situation already espousing that they've decided the truth, it can come into a situation with a decision of what needs to happen, when they haven't considered the facts in each case.
  • 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 AdamStarks (2634757) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:36PM (#42887519)

    You have to get to the 4th paragraph of the actual article before it's explicitly stated that all this happened 6 years ago. The summary is vague enough that one could easily be led to think she was appointed in 2007 and only recently removed. It should have been more specific.

    And my question was actually a question, not a snarky jab. I'm legitimately curious why this is being brought up now. Is there currently a wave of exposure for the shady maneuvers of Environmental lobbyists? Or is it just a slow enough news day that someone has to reach back 6 years to find something controversial?

  • Re:Public Comments (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:42PM (#42888359)

    Like any American she has the absolute right to speak freely.

    She hasn't been denied her right to speak freely. She has been denied the ability to abuse her position as a supposedly impartial member of an EPA panel. You can be required to keep your trap shut as a condition of some arrangment. You can even be thrown in prison if you violate a court order by running your mouth.

    One of the anti-business, anti-industry, anti-energy zealots on this EPA panel failed to conceal her bias and got called on it, as she should have been. End of story

    The rest of the noise is the usual hysteria from the anti-business, anti-industry, anti-energy peanut gallery.

  • 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 icebike (68054) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:57PM (#42888553)

    is it just a slow enough news day that someone has to reach back 6 years to find something controversial?

    Careful reading of the story shows no obvious reason this is being trotted out now. Perhaps there is another push to oust someone
    else going on behind the scenes that we are not aware of.

    But the story does hint at a less controversial reason for the removal, in that as a federal official, she was in charge of
    essentially propping up her own work, previously done at the state level.

    I think one of the comments on TFA said it best: [slashdot.org]

    Also conflicts of interest are not necessarily simply personal. There are also institutional conflicts of interest.

    " In Maine, Rice's research had supported a state ban on the chemical."

    Now Rice Chairs a similar review at a federal level. For federal researchers, voting on any research protocol regarding a chemical when also having been in a principal investigator position regarding the same protocol regarding that chemical (or supervising those voting on the protocol/supervising the principal investigators on) is an ethics violation.

    In short, there is valid reasons for this action to have been taken. Imagine, if you will, that a chemical was being voted for APPROVAL, instead of being banned. Imagine further that a researcher who did all the studies about safety on this chemical sat on and chaired the approval committee. Would we want that to be allowed? Wouldn't people be screaming about that pretty loudly?

    The American Chemical Council has no particular dog in this fight. Flame retardant is simply one of thousands of chemicals covered by this organization which has members in hundreds of different companies [americanchemistry.com]. I doubt flame retardant is even a blip on their radar. Yet the story makes it out as if this organization exists solely to make sure this flame retardant is not banned.

    In actuality, "The EPA itself had raised concerns -- ones so significant that in late 2009 the agency and several chemical companies agreed to phase out its production." Presumably these several chemical companies were already members of the American Chemistry Council.

    One could also take the position that a strictly ethical researcher would not have accepted an appointment to a panel investigating the very work that he/she pioneered. And, at the very least, would not have accepted the CHAIR of such a panel. Its sort of like doing your own peer reviews.

    In short, I think your assessment of digging for controversy where none exists is spot on.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:04PM (#42888631)

    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 Sentrion (964745) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:30PM (#42888927)

    The only problem is that if industry has to choose between flame retardant A, which is safe, and flame retardant B, which costs half as much, they will choose option B, even if retardant B is known to leach into ground water and cause birth defects. If retardant B is made readily available, then a manager can safely presume that most of the other facilities in his area will likely also choose option B, and if retardant B is found in ground water and tied years later to birth defects, he can rely on a strategy of plausible deniability, in that any retardant used at his facility would not be enough to cause all of the environmental damage in the area, and that the culprit must be some other facility or maybe the combined effect of all the industries in the area using the same retardant.

    The tragedy of the commons is why we have agencies like the EPA, because industry in the past has been left alone to be trusted to do the right thing but in too many cases they chose to do the wrong thing because doing the right thing cut into their profit margins. Agencies like the EPA set a higher standard than what the free market could afford on its own, but, by leveling the playing field, complying with the regulations becomes affordable since competitors can't (legally) undercut on price by skimping on environmental safety. It's a system that can work well if the agencies aren't packed with pro-industry insiders who know that they can land a good future executive position or consulting gig at a major company as long as they play along and let the companies do what they want.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @07:24PM (#42889609) Journal

    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 system that offers the job. Have they fixed that, or did they just give the position to the next person who came through the "revolving door"?

    She still works for the US government.

    Good, that institution is in dire need of a reality check. If you want to rid the EPA of corruption, then you should start by sacking this guy [wikipedia.org]

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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