Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE LYSENKOISM....The growing conservative assault on scientific results that don't support their preferred ideologies has become a common topic recently, and today Chris Mooney reports on an obscure new regulation that's poised to have an outsized impact on scientific research in America.

The Data Quality Act, inserted quietly into an appropriations bill by a Republican lawmaker near the end of the Clinton administration, contains what appears to be a benign requirement: government funded studies should be peer reviewed only by independent scientists. The problem is that "independent" means scientists who are not also funded by the government, and as Anthony Robbins writes in the Boston Globe:

To grasp the implications of this radical departure, one must recognize that in the United States there are effectively two pots of money that support science: one from government and one from industry. (A much smaller contribution comes from charitable foundations.) If one excludes scientists supported by the government, including most scientists based at universities, the remaining pool of reviewers will be largely from industry -- corporate political supporters of George W. Bush.

The net result of the DQA is to reduce the influence of academic scientists and increase the influence of industry-backed scientists under the Alice in Wonderland notion that academic scientists are somehow less trustworthy. In plain English, scientists who work for tobacco companies ought to be the ones to review cigarette research and scientists who work for chemical companies ought to be the ones to pass judgment on environmental research.

Lovely. Chris has more.

UPDATE: For those who don't click through to read Chris' post, I've added a few words to clear up the origin of this act. It was drafted by industry interests and inserted into a massive spending bill by a Republican lawmaker. It was not a Clinton administration initiative, and at the time it passed it's likely that no one really realized the impact of the new rules.

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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