Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A skirmish in the war on science

Last week, I wrote a post about two progressive groups attempting to use the Information Quality Act to convince the government to correct the lies told to kids in various Abstinence-Only Sex-Ed curricula.

During the introduction in that post, I mentioned that the IQA is usually used by "business groups to challenge information released by government agencies which might reflect badly on that business."

This week, I ran across a hideously perfect example of this (PDF version):

Two right-wing, industry-backed groups filed a data quality petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the agency's labeling of certain chemicals as "likely human carcinogens." Specifically, the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) and the American Council on Health and Science (ACHS) want EPA to eliminate statements in its Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment that indicate that a substance may properly be labeled as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" based solely or primarily on the results of animal studies.

These two groups are funded by various business groups and, as you might expect from, tend to give big sloppy kisses to the hands that feed them; to the extent that the WLF has claimed that the link between tobacco use and cancer is "junk science."

As they know perfectly well, the EPA is not going to engage in research intended to induce cancer in humans. The way research as to whether a given substance is a likely carcinogen has long been conducted is to subject various animals (rats notably, though not exclusively) to a variety of doses of the substances in question, and from the results of these animal experiments extrapolate whether, and if so at what level, it poses a risk to humans. The use of animal models to determine human risk is not perfect, but over half a century of these types of experiments have shown that they are quite accurate.

If there were some better method of determining human risk that these groups were promoting, it might be worth while to consider their argument. That, however, is not their goal. If they were to be successful in convincing the EPA that animal models are not useful in determining human risk, the the government would have no basis for claiming that any substance is potentially harmful. Mercury? It's our liquid metal friend. Dioxin? Let's go swimming in it.

Since this challenge does not actually assert that the data the EPA is using is inaccurate, we can hope that it will be consigned to the circular file fairly quickly. This challenge, however, is only one of many that the various government agencies are required by the IQA to duly consider and respond to, again and again, diverting the agencies' resources from actually doing their job to defending against these nuisance filings.

Which, of course, is the intent of the groups making these attacks.


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