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`Sound science' isn't just a catch phrase - it's a real persuader for anti-regulatory lobbying - !!!

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  • Teresa Binstock
    *`Sound science isn t just a catch phrase - it s a real persuader* By Iris Kuo Knight Ridder Newspapers
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2006
      *`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
      magazine Science.

      "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
      agency's reviews.

      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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