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Government Science Politics

EPA Dismisses Half the Scientists on Its Major Review Board (nymag.com) 279

An anonymous reader shares a report: A few weeks after the election, pro-Trump commentator Scottie Nell Hughes heralded the dawn of a new era when she declared, "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts." In the age of Trump there's little need for people who've devoted their lives to studying scientific facts, and over the weekend the administration finally got around to dismissing some of them. According to the Washington Post, about half of the 18 members on the Environmental Protection Agency's Board of Scientific Counselors have been informed that their terms will not be renewed. The academics who sit on the board advise the EPA's scientific board on whether its research is sound. The academics usually serve two three-year stints, and they were told by Obama administration officials and career EPA staffers that they would stay on for another term. But on Friday some received emails from the agency informing them that their first three-year term was up and they would not be renominated. Republican members of Congress have complained for some time that the Board of Scientific Counselors, as well as the 47-member Science Advisory Board, just rubber-stamp new EPA regulations. A spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed that he's thinking of replacing the academics with industry experts (though the EPA is supposed to be regulating those companies). Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, expressed her disappointment and asked, "What's the scientific reason for removing these individuals from this EPA science review board? It is rare to see such a large scale dismissal even in a presidential transition. The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions. The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics. This move by the EPA is inserting politics into science."
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EPA Dismisses Half the Scientists on Its Major Review Board

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  • Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @02:48PM (#54378835)

    Who's watching the watchers if they're watching themselves?

    • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:09PM (#54379017) Homepage

      Other sources reporting the story:
      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/0... [nytimes.com]

      http://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2017/05/08/epa-michigan-state-professor/101429388/

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/05/epa-boots-at-least-5-scientists-off-board-may-favor-replacements-from-industry/

      http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/08/politics/epa-scott-pruitt-board/

      https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/the-epa-just-got-rid-of-a-bunch-of-scientists-on-its-top-review-board-vgtrn

      http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2017/05/08/EPA-dismisses-five-members-of-scientific-review-board/6031494254095/

  • Brain surgery (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @02:48PM (#54378839) Journal

    Those damn scientists think they're so smart, with their highfalutin PhDs and science stuff. We need more straight-shooting regular people doing science.

    A spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed that he's thinking of replacing the academics with industry experts

    OK, this shit ain't funny no more.

    • Re:Brain surgery (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:18PM (#54379101)

      Interestingly enough, when a medical committee is looking at brain surgeons, they typically have a few on the committee.

      Government is about balancing interests of multiple groups against each other and deciding the best public policy.For instance, eliminating ALL cars from the road would save tens of thousands of lives and reduce the CO2 emissions of the US by orders of magnitude. But we don't do that because a destroyed economy isn't worth it (at least to rational people).

      The EPA must always balance the cost of regulations with the expected benefit. If you have a committee of people who do not know the industry, don't know the real costs of a policy, then you end up with bad policy. The very LEAST that should have been done is to augment the committee with industry experts.

      As it is they are keeping half the scientists and will be bringing in Industry people.

      • Re:Brain surgery (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thaylin ( 555395 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:30PM (#54379199)

        You have fellow PHDs on the board, you dont invite the patients to review potential brain surgens, but that is what you are talking about.

        The EPAs job is not to balance the cost of regulations with the benefits, that is congress' job, the EPA has one job, and it is in its name.

        • by sycodon ( 149926 )

          Industry experts are in fact, the brain surgeons with respect to the cost of regulations.

          And in fact, the EPA DOES make value judgements about regulations.

        • you dont invite the patients to review potential brain surgens

          There is this website called RateMDs (https://www.ratemds.com/) and wouldn't you know, people do exactly that......

          If your surgeon is a fuck up patients can and do notice.

      • Re:Brain surgery (Score:5, Informative)

        by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:41PM (#54379277)

        Interestingly enough, when a medical committee is looking at brain surgeons, they typically have a few on the committee.

        Two things:

        (1) As another reply already pointed out, a medical committee on brain surgery invites brain surgeons, Ph.D.s in neurophysiology or whatever, etc. They don't invite patients for their opinions on how best to do the surgery, which is a closer analogue here.

        (2) Your idea may have some merit in the sense that having input from industry experts could be useful in formulating the best policy plans if they will require restructuring businesses. Perhaps there is already some sort of committee like that at the EPA, or maybe input is ad-hoc -- or maybe even one could be formed. HOWEVER, it does NOT make sense to appoint industry experts on business policy to the Board of Scientific Counselors or the Science Advisory Board.

        Maybe the brain surgeons don't understand the realities of patient care and comfort. Maybe they should have a hospital committee that includes some patients to think about those issues. But the brain surgeons should NOT appoint a bunch of patients to an advisory board on the science and practice of brain surgery itself!

      • Re:Brain surgery (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @05:33PM (#54380233)

        Industry was already on the committee, by law they have to be, just like by law other groups are supposed to be represented as well. He's firing everyone that's NOT industry so industry is the only one on the committee and the only one with a voice. This is why everyone called Pruitt a Shill for industry, make no mistake he's getting paid for this, either now or later.

        Because clean air and water should be something only the rich can afford.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        "The EPA must always balance the cost of regulations with the expected benefit."

        "augment the committee with industry experts."

        Except what will really happen is these 'experts' will just rig the environmental policies so that the industry can pollute more and make more profits at the expense of health and the environment. Industry does not care about external costs.

    • Brain surgery? Then we need a brain surgeon like Ben Carson!
  • by rastos1 ( 601318 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @02:53PM (#54378873) Homepage
    In these sad times I would appreciate a story about a person wising up after an issue, that you warned about, backfired. Do you have some?
  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @02:54PM (#54378877) Journal
    Lead in poor peoples drinking water for starters
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If there was a market for low-priced lead-free water someone would supply it.

      The fact that none of them has taken it upon themselves to make a nice living doing so just shows that not only do they deserve to be poor but they deserve to be poisoned too.
      --
      roman_mir

      • How low priced? It's common for supermarkets to sell distilled water for $1 per gallon. Culligan and others deliver drinking water in 5 gallon containers. There are firms with tanker-truck delivery for filling swimming pools.

        For really low prices you need pipe-to-the-home, which has high up-front costs and needs permission to dig up the roads.

    • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
      how'dya like that regulatory capture? UNH UNH take it bich...

      Time to make a play in the canned air [sciencealert.com] market segment.
  • by ITRambo ( 1467509 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @02:55PM (#54378883)
    Trump and his cronies, advisers, and buddies, can't let facts get in the way of their beliefs.
    • by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:17PM (#54379089) Homepage
      Almost - they can't let facts (or laws) get in the way of extracting profit from people and the environment.
      Remember, he promised jobs; just like the way China grew it's economy at 10% annually for over a decade.
      We should not be surprised when we end up with the same toxic waste land that has Beijing : China has 7 of the 10 most polluted cities in the world
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      Of course if your a capitalist, you can just claim this is fake news and continue your pillage.
  • All the scientists (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @02:56PM (#54378893) Homepage Journal

    Since more scientists are better, why doesn't the government just employ ALL the scientists? This 18 member panel didn't actually do scientific work, but they reviewed the scientific work of the actual working scientists, so that makes them more like bureaucratic scientists? The scientific work produced by the EPA should be peer reviewed in any case, and not reviewed by a static group of scientists that almost certainly have a net bias towards the viewpoints of whatever administration made the decision to hire each of them.

    The academics usually serve two three-year stints, and they were told by Obama administration officials and career EPA staffers that they would stay on for another term.

    Well that's just ridiculous. I hope no one believed that had any merit in reality.

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:00PM (#54378931) Homepage Journal

    The EPA is treating this scientific advisory board like its members are political appointees when these committees are not political positions. The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics.

    Could someone name two or three of the dismissed people, for whom he can vouch that they do not have a Che Guevara T-shirt?

  • by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:01PM (#54378937)
    A spokesman for the henhouse comfirmed that he's thinking of replacing the roosters with "chicken experts" (i.e. foxes).
    • A spokesman for the henhouse comfirmed that he's thinking of replacing the roosters with "chicken experts" (i.e. foxes).

      Yes, this is what regulatory capture looks like. It's usually not quite so rapid though. RIP EPA.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:07PM (#54378997) Homepage Journal

    she declared, "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts"

    Before adding, "apart from that one, obviously."

  • Wrong Way Around (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jasnw ( 1913892 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:08PM (#54379013)
    Actually, this isn't inserting politics into science as stated, it's more like a continuation of the removal of science and all its annoying reliance on real facts from politics/governance.
  • Not really. Give it a rest, msmash. For goodness sake.
    • Why? I mean it's been up for a short period of time and yet it already has more comments than most of the front page. Maybe this is the kind of thing Slashdot actually wants to be posted.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @03:24PM (#54379157) Journal
    "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts."

    When "alternative facts" are said to be true because they're declared to be true, when vaccines are once again said to cause autism, when the settled science of climate change is used as the reason to build a sea wall around a golf course while at the same time declared to be fiction concocted by a foreign government, it is quite clear the manipulation of the uneducated is the end goal.

    This whole debacle of declaring untrue what is patently true is a page taken right out of Putin's playbook. Lie, lie, deny and make the other person appear to be the one who has to prove anything despite the overwhelming evidence already presented.
  • If the committee always agrees and is unanimous removing half of them won't make any difference; they could whittle the committee to three or five members.

    It sounds like this committee has become a resume filler.

    • That depends who replaces them. The committee isn't getting smaller: Members are just getting replaced. I wouldn't be surprised to see if the replacements are all ex-lobbyists who start explaining that carbon dioxide is plant food, so the world needs more of it to boost agriculture.

  • Science is about theories - not facts. If you "peel the onion" on most theories, you find out just how few "facts" there actually are! For an interesting read on this subject, check out the book "Doubt and Certainty", by Tony Rothman and George Sudarshan (the famous physicists).
    • How about we suspend a 200-pound rock over your head, and listen to you explain how gravity is "just a theory" until we get sick of hearing your voice.

      • What a nasty reply. I will respond anyway - perhaps others are interested in actually exchange ideas instead of insults.

        Observations are facts - to the observer (not necessarily to others). However, theories are not facts. Gravity is a good example, because while we thought we understood gravity, it turns out that we don't - there are some predictions that general relativity makes are in conflict with quantum mechanics. So the theory of gravity is not a "fact" - it is just a theory.

        That does not mean that t

        • Get back to me when you figure out what "theory" means in a science context. Until then, kindly quit wasting people's time.

  • "The individuals on these boards are appointed based on scientific expertise not politics."

    No matter what your scientific position may be, few if any individuals on such a board are not political animals. Anyone in academia who *tries* to get onto university boards, etc. is more interested in the power (or perception of power) of such a position than in the science purportedly being done. They get there by virtue of knowing and kowtowing to someone else in political power.

  • After all, the optics would really look bad if they had fired all of the scientists the same day. Chances are they will wait a few weeks, then slowly get rid of the rest.

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