Secret Science: it's everywhere, and nowhere, yet it rules our lives

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Technological progress, our very standard of living, depends upon the scientific method. We know very well that the heart and soul of science is accurate and verifiable research findings. Research findings can be properly verified only if the underlying data and methods of analysis are open to all properly trained researchers. Reproducibility is particularly important when research findings and resulting public policy impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans.

Secret science, defined as science that is not transparent or reproducible, should not be used as a basis for important public policy by U.S. regulatory agencies. So said Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress earlier this week: For years, the EPA has based its rules and regulations on secret data that they refuse to publish and make available to all Americans, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said in a statement.

Since the American people bear the expensive costs of EPA red tape, they deserve to have access to the science behind these regulations. Our bill will force the Obama administration to finally start living up to its claim of being the most transparent administration in history, he said. Under the legislation, the EPA would not be allowed to write any regulations unless they re based on the best available science that is made publicly available on the web. Similar bills were introduced last November, and passed the House, but stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate since now both houses are under Republican control, it is thought these measures may gain more traction.

The wording is echoed in a letter signed by numerous scientists and nonprofits, including ACSH, last year: The scientific method depends on the free exchange of knowledge and data among researchers with different perspectives, even competing points of view ¦.It is important that risk analysis and health hazard assessment be based on reproducible results, as is done in other areas of science. One reason most Republicans and many Democrats, as well as scientists devoted to evidence-based studies rather than agenda-driven ideologies, are supporting more transparency in governmental rule-making, is the general belief that left-leaning, green or environmental organizations are playing too large a role behind the scenes in such deliberations.

Given that these agencies spend billions of dollars of public funds in generating their hundreds, or thousands of new regulatory strictures, you d think gaining access to the data behind the rule-making would be an obvious requirement. Yet, it s not and it s not just the EPA that keeps this information behind the curtain; it s a general behavior of almost all the federal agencies, including the FDA.

If these measures pass, and they are signed into law by the president (unlikely, in my opinion), a vast trove of important information will become accessible to scientific review and confirmation or debunking.