Brown Releases Report on Fringe Science
Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA), the Ranking Democratic Member of the Committee on Science, today released a report which reviews hearings held last year by the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Those hearings, organized by the Republican subcommittee chairman, showcased allegations that the science relating to stratospheric ozone depletion, global climate change, and the human health risks of dioxin exposure had all been systematically exaggerated to promote a preconceived regulatory agenda, and that inconsistent scientific information and views had been ignored and suppressed.
Brown's report, based on case studies of the hearings produced by his staff, details the charges made in the hearings and examines the evidence presented to support those charges. Brown expressed his desire that "this report be seen as a counterweight to some of the more sensational charges, hyperbolic claims and apocryphal anecdotes that were the sum and substance of those hearings."
The report concludes that the hearings failed to produce credible evidence substantiating any of the claims of scientific or governmental misconduct. "To the contrary," said the report, "the record showed that the environmental research was carried out in an objective manner, consistent with the norms of scientific integrity, and without preconceived political or scientific outcomes."
The report goes on to state that the hearings were "more than a platform for critics to air charges which ultimately proved to be baseless. They constituted an unprecedented assault on the peer review system and the scientific process itself." The report details a number of "disturbing" assumptions evidenced by the Republican majority at the hearings which threaten to undermine the role of science in setting policy, such as:
- neither government-funded science nor the traditional peer-review process can be trusted;
- scientific truth is more likely to be found at the fringes of science rather than in the mainstream; and
- Congress, rather than scientists, should decide scientific truth by acting as a scientific court.
The report also examines the policy implications of the emerging definition of "sound" science as "empirical" science which must prove a matter to be true before any regulation can be justified. This narrow definition, the report noted, would "entirely preclude the consideration of certain types of scientific knowledge," such as computer models. Further, the definition "merely reflects a policy position which would require unrealistic scientific certainty before any regulations could be justified. The definition would make it virtually impossible to pass regulations intended to prevent environmental harm before it occurs." Human health could only be protected, under this logic, after it had been damaged; lives saved only after they were lost.
In releasing the report, Brown called for an end to "relying on red herrings, false accusations, and vague charges in shaping Congressional policy." He also urged the next Congress to take the more productive step of discussing the real differences in values that must be resolved to address complex environmental problems. "We need to find new mechanisms by which those who treasure the Earth and those who must put food on the table can begin to find a common ground," said Brown. Brown also called for scientists to take a more active role in responding to the increasingly public claims of professional "skeptics" who criticize mainstream scientific thinking.