If you are a progressive in science journalism, these are boom times again. A Republican is in the White House and you have the kind of salad days for partisan scorn not available since January of 2009.(1)
But the public has lost a lot of trust in science media because of such partisan framing and they've stopped reading mainstream journalism, and so journalists have lost a lot of jobs. We can blame mean old capitalism, but companies are responding to the audience - and the audience has stopped trusting science in newspapers. (2) They still want science, the audience for information about new advances is 65 million Americans and our website traffic is up 800 percent in the last two years, they just don't want it from sources that seem more political than evidence-based.
There is one way for science journalists to gain back some trust among both sides of the political aisle, and that is to use the same critical thinking they claim to have about science when it comes to changes at the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if the candidate they didn't vote for won.
Now, I have been supportive of EPA on too many occasions to count. I have never advocated shutting the Ronald Reagan Building down, I have written articles where I discussed one of the finest toxicology white papers I've ever read, written by EPA. But during the last administration things got out of control. It's too much detail to go into every instance where they pre-arranged settlements of lawsuits with environmentalists, where they let environmentalists write statements from the president and from EPA, or where they engaged in legislative fiat with their regulatory policies, but we know it happened. They know it happened. Everyone knows it happened. And it's time it stopped.
Support separation of government
We recognize separation of Church and State as important, but we also need to maintain separation of State and State. Whether your party has control of Congress or not, you should resist any case where a regulatory agency can go around Congress to support the agenda of the Executive branch. The President has not abdicated his authority to agencies, nor has the Supreme Court. Yet Congress was forced to hand over some authority to unelected officials due to the 1984 case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, where the Supreme Court decided government agencies could create their own statutes and then interpret them as they saw fit. (3) That essentially stated there was no limit on how much Congressional authority can be delegated to a government agency, but it has been really abused by EPA in the last few years.
In 2012, the EPA had to be told by a federal court to stop blaming natural gas extraction - fracking - for earthquakes and banning it without doing any studies. Their argument was Chevron deference. They created a new Waters of the United States rule that was going to punish farmers and ranchers by declaring any body of water on their land under EPA jurisdiction, also invoking Chevron deference. And any costs to "fix" a problem EPA decided they had was going to be borne by private citizens. They have stated tiny particulate matter needs to be cut more to save lives even though there has not been a single acute death due to PM2.5 in the entire history of the EPA and America has some of the cleanest air on earth.
Because EPA Director Scott Pruitt had successfully challenged EPA overreach using science, he is obviously a great choice to fix it. As the saying goes, he now gets to light a candle rather than curse their darkness. And that means journalists do too, if they want to be trusted by the public again. Yes, it also means some of the 12,000 employees who got EPA jobs to advance an ideological agenda rather than serve America should be nervous. The upside, if it happens, is that Americans can rest easier knowing that EPA will be once again looking for real health threats, rather than inventing health scares.
(1) It was hard to be critical of federal decision-making about science when it was the party you campaigned for, even if they did a lot of anti-science things. And they did.
(2) Even the New York Times has caved to populism and started promoting woo about acupuncture under its "science" brand.
(3) This was a huge win for NRDC, they wouldn't fall from grace until a few years later, when they were busted for conspiring with environmental PR agency Fenton Communications to manufacture the "alar on apples" pesticide scare. Who busted them and revealed they were frauds on "60 Minutes", the same program that gave them faux legitimacy? Us. You're welcome, America.