Wednesday, November 13, 2019

EPA Seeks to Limit Science in Decision Making Regarding Health and Environment

In one of the oddest regulatory changes so far in the current administration, the EPA is seeking to limit the kind of science that can be considered in making rules regarding clean air and water. The way they are doing this is by requiring that any scientific study be totally transparent. While this sounds like a good thing, most human subject research is confidential. The EPA wants to only allow the use of studies that do not have confidentiality requirements. Plus, the EPA wants to make the rules retroactive which would mean that many rules could be rolled back.

The issue is strange because confidentiality is the norm in public health research--and for good reason. Researchers do not disclose medical or personal information about participants in a study because disclosure could impact jobs or relationships. Imagine if you are a participant in a study about lung cancer. As part of the research, you reveal in a medical history questionnaire that you have been treated for a mental health disease. You would not want this information disclosed to the general public. Based on the rules the EPA wants, if you were to participate in a study, you would have to disclose all of your information to anyone who wants it. Obviously this will cause many people not to participate in medical research.

This is the real tragedy of the policy.

If they succeed with the plan, the federal government will gut the ability of the scientific community to conduct research that benefits the public health of the nation.

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