Science Leaders Decry Congressional Attacks on Science-Based Policy

Published May 26, 2015

WASHINGTON (May 29, 2015)—There is a “growing and troubling assault” by Congress on the use of science to make policy and this poses “substantial risks to society and democracy,” according to a Science article published today by leaders in the science community.

House leaders introduced five bills this session in the name of accountability, transparency, and reform, but the legislation would actually undermine the science process for federal agencies.

These bills impede the science advisory process in a number of ways: putting political considerations and special interests ahead of science; adding layers of bureaucracy, red tape and new mandates; limiting the information that scientists can use; and changing advisory panels to elevate industry voices and discourage independent science.

Individually, each of these bills creates barriers for American public health and safety protections. Taken together, they would cripple environmental and public health laws—laws with long-standing, bipartisan legacies.

“The science community should be up in arms over these congressional attacks,” said Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, the lead author of the article and the director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “These bills are based on a set of false premises concerning the science advisory process for federal agencies. Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: big companies and special interests find inconvenient laws, like the Clean Air Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act, that protect public health and safety, so they’re attacking the science to roll back those protections.”

In the article, Rosenberg and other experts from across the scientific community identify the Secret Science Reform Act, the Regulatory Accountability Act, the REINS Act, and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act as key attacks on the science process. While the Obama administration has expressed opposition to these bills, any of them could be attached as a rider to must-pass legislation later this year.

“Despite their reasonable-sounding names, these bills are a serious threat to the role that science should play in policy,” said Dr. Neal Lane, a former White House Science adviser and a co-author of the Science article. “There’s room for improvement in how we use science, but these bills take us in exactly the opposite direction. They don’t advance accountability or transparency, they just diminish the role of science, and we as scientists need to speak out.”

The article was also co-authored by former AAAS president Dr. James McCarthy, a biological oceanography professor at Harvard and UCS board chair.

“We need more scientists to engage in the issues facing the public, but Congress is making it more difficult to do so,” said McCarthy. “If these bills became law, they would profoundly discourage independent scientists from public service, to the detriment of the public. It’s critical for scientists to strongly oppose these attacks.”

Article co-author Veronica Eady, the vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, noted that science has a critical role to play in protecting the health and safety of Americans. “Bills like these are a direct attack on the communities that rely on laws like the Clean Air Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It’s indefensible to deny Americans the benefits that come from using science to make policy.”