Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Bush Administration's (non)War on Science

A colleague of mine recently asked my thoughts on the recent reports that the administration is suppressing EPA science. Here was my response:

On the suppression of the EPA report, I don't know the details of the current case, but from my experience, regardless of how it looked from the outside, it was never some anti-science conspiracy, but usually a case where economic and political realities of what most people would say is the common good, trump scientific considerations. Most of the CEA are academics, and hence all Democrats, and yet, I don't think any of us ever felt we were asked to do anything we felt was unethical or goes against economic principles.

So one example I do know of, was when we were trying to suppress an EPA finding that CO2 is a pollutant. Various scientists wanted to, but if we were to accept that, the Clean Air Act, says that emissions of all pollutants that might harm humans have to be reduced AT ANY COST. It would be illegal to take cost into account. Conceivably, lawyers could use such a finding to make driving illegal. Heck, breathing produces CO2, and lawyers could then sue to prevent you from breathing too heavily.

Another example was when the EPA wanted to increase regulations on particulate matter. Again, the regulation failed every conceivable cost benefit analysis, but according to the Clean Air Act, costs couldn't be taken into account. Even the statistics the EPA did to show that the regulations would have any benefit whatsoever (in this case, for asthma reduction), would not have been allowed past any referee in a decent economics journal. They used correlations, and had no instrument for causation. They used data sets with maybe 100 observations, and arbitrarily tossed out outliers.

Again, maybe it was the best science that was available, but it didn't seem like it justified a regulation that would have billions of dollars in actual costs.

So the reporting on this, was probably along the lines of "anti-science bush administration blocks regulation favored by EPA scientists. Curries to big business over the poor asthma sufferers"

But things aren't so clean cut from the inside.

So I'm probably biased on this. But I don't think excessively so.

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