Some key House Republicans have chosen to support a Democratic bill called the Scientific Integrity Act. That nearly every House Democrat is a co-sponsor of the bill was apparently insufficient warning.
Recently passed out of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the bill actually has nothing to do with what one would reasonably think of as “scientific integrity.” It does nothing to ensure that federal scientists conduct legitimate science.
Instead, the bill is aimed at empowering deep-state scientists for the duration of the Trump administration.
In a nutshell, the bill requires that federal agencies set up formalized grievance procedures for federal scientists who claim they are being silenced by senior bureaucrats and political appointees.
Under the bill, the filing of a grievance would start a process that not only disseminates the underlying “science” to the public regardless of its merits, but also guarantees dramatic headlines of censorship and persecution.
Such claims of censorship are not new, but they’ve been greatly exaggerated.
Followers of the climate wars will recall, for example, during the Bush administration when NASA gadfly James Hansen ludicrously claimed the Bush administration tried to silence him. The truth is that Hansen had been talking to anyone who would listen to him, without any government interference.
Of course, the government has every right to rein in faulty, ideologically-driven science when it occurs. This year, for instance, the White House blocked a State Department intelligence employee from testifying about climate change and national security.
The media was appalled, but they conveniently overlooked the fact that a prominent scientist on the National Security Council staff had fact-checked the State Department employee’s testimony and found it in error.
Such oversight is important. The Scientific Integrity Act, however, would basically make it illegal for federal agencies to exert any control over the scientists that work for them.
The House Science Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., succeeded in mildly amending the bill so that “aggrieved” federal scientists can’t go straight to the media, but instead would have to follow agency procedures in doing so.
Having accomplished little, Lucas then rolled over and said, “With the adoption of my amendment, I will support passage of the bill and encourage all my colleagues to do so.”
Lucas and five other Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill.
House Democrats, of course, don’t need the support of Republicans to pass bills out of committee and bring them to the floor. But Lucas and the other Republicans he convinced to support him now make the bill “bipartisan.”
Besides aiding and abetting the Resistance against the Trump administration—which is supposed to be in charge of federal employees—the bill also allows Democrats to pose as the party of federal scientific integrity.
This does not comport with reality.
The Environmental Protection Agency has protected faulty science in the past. For example, during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama years, the EPA allowed taxpayer-funded scientists to hide scientific data on air quality research from Congress and independent scientists.
This data was then used by the Obama administration in its junk science-fueled war on coal, the principal cause of the coal industry losing about 94% of its market value between 2011 and 2016.
During the three previous Congresses, Republicans passed (with no Democratic support) a bill that would have prohibited the EPA from using such “secret science” as the basis for regulation. But without a filibuster-proof majority, they couldn’t pass the bill out of the Senate.
Since passing such a bill is hopeless for now, the Trump administration is trying to ban the use of secret science through an EPA executive action. But Democrats are again opposing the effort.
While House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, acknowledges that the proposed rule would require the EPA to “rely only on scientific studies that are reproducible from the data that is publicly released,” she nonetheless called the bill an “insidious” effort to “cripple” the EPA.
Inevitably, the science put out by the EPA and other agencies is going to be politicized. The goal should be to have a process that allows for both free scientific inquiry and proper oversight. The fact is there are some rogue, ideologically-driven scientists in the government who need to be kept in check.
If Republicans are going to support something called the “Scientific Integrity Act,” they should ensure that such a bill makes at least some actual progress toward that goal. This bill falls way short.