Scary stories reg writers tell around the campfire: "Jim Tozzi and the Data Quality Act"

The three-part Washington Post series on regulation continues with a story on the Data Quality Act (DQA) by Rick Weiss:
" 'Data Quality' Law Is Nemesis Of Regulation" .

The DQA was passed in 2000 as an obscure 32 word section in a 712 page appropriations act. Congress directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare guidelines to "provide policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies." Here's a short overview of the OMB guidelines:
"The Data Quality Act: A revoluation in the role of science in policy making or a can of worms?".

Weiss describes the origins of the DQA, and explains how it has been used - with a special case study of the regulation of the herbicide artazine. The general theme is that the DQA was introduced as a tool for use by business interests to hobble health, safety, and environmental regulation. No one can be against the use of better science, so a requirement for better science has considerable rhetorical power. But since scientific results always have an element of uncertainty, if you set the science standards high enough you can create grounds for delaying or derailing science-based regulation.

There is a certain amount of credible evidence that small amounts of atrazine can disrupt "hormones in wildlife - in some cases turning frogs into bizarre creatures bearing both male and female sex organs." Weiss describes how industry lobbyist Jim Tozzi (the author of the DQA itself) challenged EPA science on atrazine:
    "...That petition, filed by Tozzi, made a two-pronged attack on the effort to regulate atrazine more stringently. The first was to claim that the evidence for atrazine's gender-bending effects in frogs was not fully reproduced by other Syngenta-funded EcoRisk [Syngenta makes artazine, EcoRisk was a consulting firm hired by Syngenta to test it for potential problems - Ben] scientists...

    Tozzi said reliance on irreproducible results would violate the Data Quality Act because information that is not reproducible is "not accurate, reliable or useful."

    As evidence of irreproducibility, he pointed to the dozen or so studies sponsored by Syngenta in addition to Hayes's study
    [Tyrone Hayes, a professor at UC Berkeley, who had done considerable work on atrazine, both for EcoRisk and independently. His experiments had indicated that small amounts of atrazine could have considerable impact on frogs - Ben]
    . An independent panel of experts convened by the EPA had already expressed exasperation over the conflicting results and mistakes they found in the design and implementation of those studies.

    In at least two of the studies the "control" frogs that were supposed to be atrazine-free were later found to have been in water contaminated with atrazine, an error the scientists said was unintentional. Another set of Syngenta studies was found to be unreliable because 80 to 90 percent of the animals died, apparently as a result of inadequate care.

    Essentially what Syngenta-funded scientists did "was produce a number of studies that were purposefully flawed and misleading, and that changed the weight of the evidence," Hayes said.

    While the EPA review also found some flaws in Hayes's studies, his conclusions have been echoed by at least four other independent research teams in three countries.

    "What a coincidence that everybody can find an effect of atrazine on gonads," Hayes said, "except [those] funded by Syngenta."

    David Michaels, a professor of occupational and environmental health at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said even a good study will appear "not reproducible" if enough bad studies are thrown into the mix.

    "I call this 'manufacturing uncertainty,' and there is a whole industry to do this," said Michaels, who was the Energy Department's assistant secretary for environment, safety and health under Clinton. "They reanalyze the data to make [previously firm] conclusions disappear -- poof. Then they say one study says yes and the other says no, so we're nowhere."

    Pastoor of Syngenta said there was no conspiracy to create conflicting data..."
Minor title change, 8-16-04.