`Sound science' isn't just a catch phrase - it's a real persuader for anti-regulatory lobbying - !!!
- *`Sound science' isn't just a catch phrase - it's a real persuader*
By Iris Kuo
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, senators, industrialists and
farmers repeatedly invoke the term "sound science" to delay or deep-six
policies they oppose and dismiss criticism of those they favor.
The administration has waved it at such diverse issues as global
warming, beef imports, air pollution and arsenic in drinking water. Last
Thursday, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta used the phrase to slow
a congressional bid to raise the U.S. passenger vehicle mileage
standard. "An administrative process based on sound science" should
precede any change, Mineta said.
No one, however, is sure what "sound science" means.
The phrase has more to do with anti-regulatory lobbying than with
laboratory results, said Donald Kennedy, the former head of the Food and
Drug Administration and now the editor in chief of the influential
"Sound science is whatever somebody likes," Kennedy said. "It's
essentially a politically useful term, but it doesn't have any normative
meaning whatsoever. My science is sound science, and the science of my
enemies is junk science."
The phrase has been on a roll since 1992, when lobbyists for the tobacco
industry argued that no "sound science" showed that secondhand smoke is
a health hazard.
Within a year, a group called "The Advancement of Sound Science
Coalition" - backed by the Philip Morris company - was invoking "sound
science" to oppose not only tobacco curbs but also regulation of
hazardous industrial chemicals such as dioxin.
In a 2002 speech to the National Economists Club in Washington, John
Graham, who designed the Bush administration's initiative to vet
proposed federal regulations, called "sound science" the basis of his
Graham, then President Bush's administrator of the Office of Information
and Regulatory Affairs, said that would result in "a smart process
(that) adopts new rules when market and local choices fail, modifies
existing rules to make them more effective or less costly, and rescinds
outmoded rules whose benefits no longer justify their costs."
The Bush administration has invoked "sound science" to:
-Douse concern about global warming by arguing that the human role in
causing it is unproved. The National Academy of Sciences, the customary
arbitrator of scientific disputes for the government, disagreed, finding
ample evidence of fossil fuel pollution's role. On Wednesday, a panel
created by the administration in 2002 confirmed some human influence
over atmospheric temperatures. It's the first of 21 reviews due from the
Climate Change Science Program.
-Challenge the Clinton administration's efforts to reduce the
permissible level of arsenic in drinking water. Bush delayed the
Environmental Protection Agency's effort in 2002, citing the need to
"make a decision based on sound science." Eight months later, Bush let
former President Clinton's arsenic regulations take effect.
-Block Canadian beef imports until "sound science," as Bush put it in
2004, proved that the beef presented no mad-cow disease hazard to U.S.
consumers. When the shoe was on the other foot, farm state senators
chided Japanese regulators for ignoring "sound science" that supported
renewed U.S. beef imports after a mad-cow scare.
-Press the European Union to import genetically modified U.S. crops. The
Bush administration argued persuasively in a World Trade Organization
suit that "sound science" proved that Europe's fears were unjustified.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups disagreed, along with many EU
-Ban the import of Mexican avocados because "sound science" showed
they'd bring in harvest-destroying pests. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture later lifted its ban, saying "sound science" showed Mexico's
safeguards were adequate.
The administration's insistence on "sound science," however, can give a
few extremists the same standing as a large consensus of scientists,
charges the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington policy group
that opposes the administration on many issues. For example, while
there's nearly unanimous agreement that global warming is caused largely
by human activity, the administration, in the name of "sound science,"
has stressed the arguments of a few dissenters, such as "Jurassic Park"
author Michael Crichton.
The secret of the term lies largely in its power to cast doubt on the
certainty or completeness of existing scientific evidence.
"The reason why it works is that it removes politics and ideology from
the debate," said Frank Luntz, a Washington-based Republican
communications consultant whose upcoming book, "Words that Work,"
champions the phrase. "It's a descriptive term that makes an already
powerful argument even more so."
Author Chris Mooney, a Democratic partisan who chronicles the term's
history and alleged misuse in his book "The Republican War on Science,"
said the phrase suggests that science and scientists are bad and biased.
They can be, Mooney said, but calls for sound science often demand
time-consuming additional peer review or an unattainable burden of proof
that sidelines regulations unreasonably.
"You just have to use the best available information you've got to make
a decision," Mooney said. "They're trying to throw a wrench in that
process, and they're using science to create this kind of regulatory
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