The EPA Doesn’t Own Its Data?

With more major news sources devoting attention to the reproducibility crisis, the issue of transparency in science is forcing its way into the public eye. And not a moment too soon, considering President Trump ordered EPA scientists to stop talking to the media during his first week in office. Oy.

But the President certainly isn’t alone in allowing bad science to slip through the cracks. We were recently surprised to find the EPA doesn’t own, nor have access to the raw data which its grants fund, which means that many of the studies supporting certain EPA initiatives won’t be replicated. (You can read up on the reproducibility crisis to see why that’s a huge problem.)

And California routinely relies on the “insights” of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to determine what to slap a warning label on next. IARC has been heavily criticized for professing cell phone use, coffee, and working at night cause cancer, even if only a single flawed study links the two.

Recetly, our chief science officer Dr. Joseph Perrone published an article on the need for transparency in science. Read the excerpt below, or the full article on the San Jose Mercury News website.

Many people may be surprised to find that the EPA doesn’t even own, nor does it have access to, much of the data informing the basis of its most impactful regulations. The trouble stems largely from EPA research grants, which fail to require the entirety of researchers’ findings be released to the federal agency. And Trump certainly hasn’t helped matters of transparency after imposing a gag order on EPA scientists in his first week in office.

EPA staff admitted to their agency’s meager access to information after being unable to produce raw air pollution data requested under a 2013 Congressional subpoena. Part of the data in question belonged to Harvard University, where researchers tied air pollution to deaths in 6 U.S. cities. Since its publication, the study has been an integral vehicle for EPA efforts to constrict air quality regulations.

That the data supporting upwards of $65 billion in regulatory oversight is “held solely by… outside research institutions” and never scrutinized by their funding agencies is troubling, to say the least. Policy generally shouldn’t be based on secret data.