How to constrain the abuse of science by Federal agencies

by David Wojick

There is a recurring pattern of Federal agencies twisting science in order to support confiscatory actions. The agencies can get away with these tricks because there is a general lack of controls on how they use science when making policy, crafting regulations, etc.

There are a number of Laws and Executive Orders that serve to govern agency actions, but these are not directed at the use or misuse of science. For example, while the Paperwork Reduction Act requires OMB clearance of new regulations, it is primarily focused on the burden imposed by significant new rules.

Executive Order 12866 — Regulatory Planning and Review — mentions in passing using the best available science, but it is focused almost entirely on cost-benefit analysis. So is OMB’s guidance under Circular A-4 — Regulatory Analysis. The Regulatory Impact Analyses and related Technical Documentation developed under these rules typically do very little systematic analysis of the science in question.

The Administrative Procedures Act, as the name implies, is focused on rulemaking procedures, not substance and certainly not science.

Moreover, all of these controls are limited to regulatory actions. But the misuse of science can occur in many other sorts of agency actions.

The National Environmental Policy Act provides for judicial review of an agency’s scientific claims in environmental impact assessments, but this law is an exception. There is presently very little other law governing the agency use of science, which the Courts can enforce. For example, regulatory impact analyses are conducted under Executive Order and as such their scientific aspects are not subject to judicial review.

Absent enforceable law, the Courts traditionally show great deference to the agencies in matters of science that are relevant to the agency’s actions. The Courts do not want to be seen as adjudicating science.

Possible solutions

1. Require a Science Review and Analysis (SRA) as part of justification of the agency action.

One solution is to establish enforceable legislative mandates requiring the sound use of science. Short of new law there is also the mechanism of a new Executive Order, one that is focused directly on policy related science.

In either case the mandate should be that there is full consideration and discussion of all outstanding uncertainties and controversies in the science in question. Moreover, this science must be clearly spelled out, perhaps via a systematic literature review.

In short we need a new formal analysis to accompany major, science based agency actions. Let us call this document the Science Review and Analysis or SRA. The SRA should be separate from the present Technical Documentation. It should also be subject to public notice and comment.

Ideally it will also be subject to judicial review, the way that Environmental Impact Analyses presently are under NEPA.

2. Require approval by a Science Review Panel (SRP)

Another partial solution is establishing new administrative procedures, such as requiring scientific review outside of the agency. Here the question is how such reviews would be administered. The basic idea is to assemble a review panel composed of experts on the science in question. Let us call this group the Science Review Panel or SRP.

This Science Review Panel should be run by an office that is independent of the office developing the science based agency action in question. It might even be run by another agency.

Administrative issues

For either the Science Review and Analysis or the Science Review Panel it will be necessary to define those conditions that trigger their use. This threshold should involve both the potential impact of the action in question as well as the extent to which it is science based. The extent to which the science in question is controversial might also be a trigger for review.

It will also be useful to have OMB oversight and guidance, either via the present Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs or perhaps a new, science based Office.

The basic problem is that an agency may select or interpret specific scientific findings in a way that supports their action, while ignoring contrary science. The Science Review and Analysis procedure, and the Science Review Panel, are potential control mechanisms to address this problem of selective science.

The goal is for the Federal Government to use sound science in its decision making.

112 responses to “How to constrain the abuse of science by Federal agencies

  1. After WWII, federal research agencies and national academies of sciences tried to hide the source of energy in atomic bombs, rather than use neutron repulsion to advance society.

  2. OK, I get it! Let’s fix a bureaucratic problem by adding more bureaucratic oversight agencies. What’s not to like!

    • What is a non-bureaucratic way to fix a bureaucratic problem? I am open to suggestions.

      • “What is a non-bureaucratic way to fix a bureaucratic problem?”

        Sack a shed-load of bureaucrats, of course. There are far, far too many of them, and they are 90% likely to be 100% parasites.

      • How does this solve the problem? The remaining bureaucrats might be just as biased.

      • DW “What is a non-bureaucratic way to fix a bureaucratic problem? I am open to suggestions.”

        Reduce the power of the federal government to regulate. For instance, pass a statute making clear that CO2 is not a pollutant.


      • If there’s an Act, like a Paperwork Reduction Act, and someone decides the hell with it, you summon them before Congress and fine them a million dollars. You only have to that twice or maybe three times, then everyone gets the lesson.

      • Environmental regulations should be controlled by the state EPAs.
        They know more about the potential problems with their environment.
        The national EPA should be environmental courts so that if the states will not agree how to fix their environmental problems (like border river pollution) the National EPA would step in and rule on how to proceed to clean up through completion.
        Basically, is there a problem, who’s at fault, who pays and the correct procedure for safe clean up.
        There are way too many people in the EPA.

      • Monarchy.

      • (or benevolent autocrat)

      • gallopingcamel

        This is not a difficult question. Just vote for Donald Trump.

    • Curious George

      The government is getting too big. In the Garden of Eden there was no government, and both Eve and Adam lived happily (and naked) until the serpent told them to eat a forbidden apple.

      Actually the problem is a lack of personal responsibility – in government or in corporations: read an indemnity clause of a typical incorporation kit. We have to correct it in both places. We have already too many lawyers, this would be a task for them.

    • More to the point, I think regulating the regulators is some of the most important regulating we can do. Most of the present controls were developed back in the 1980s, so new approaches are timely.

      • That’s what Inspectors General ( IGs ) were for, initially.
        Obama has forced them to keep their mouths shut or else.
        How many IGs have quit or lost their jobs in the last eight years?

  3. Repeal the Administrative Procedures Act. It gives too much of the authority of Congressional branch and Judicial branch over to the Executive branch. Bureaucrats should not be making law.

    • I do not think that repealing the APA would stop agencies from making and enforcing regulations. The APA constrains rulemaking but it is not the basis for rulemaking.

      • And what else then is the legal basis for rule making if not the APA?

      • David Wojick

        My understanding is that regulations date from around 1900, long before the APA was passed. They implement laws and the Constitution. That is the Executive’s job.

      • APA allows regulators to write their own rules…that is legislation. But repealing most of APA will not fix the problem entirely. But it would be a good first step. EPA for example was created by a Nixon executive order and now EPA is writing its own regulations.

      • If the EPA, was created with nothing more than a phone & pen, then President Donald J. Trump, might just stop the whole thing in it’s tracks and let the DOJ, sort things out over the next four years… for the kids.

  4. BTW – Niels Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer and their team including US Army took the time to run their Uranium mining/processing plans past the top US Engineers before proceeding and we, today benefit from that…..

  5. Perhaps the most urgent issue is collusive “sue and settle” scams.

    • Certainly a big issue, but not related to my topic, since science is not directly involved in this litigation.

    • AK, sue and settle is a different problem than dodgy EPA endangerment findings, or linear harm versus minimum thresholds, and other Sciency stuff.

  6. DW, you point to a serious problem. But I don’t think either of your partial solutions is workable. All to easy to have selection bias in who ‘independently’ reviews the regulatory science. All to easy to ignore or respond with essentially meaningless words to public comments on an SRA, or to overweight comments corresponding to the political agenda. I think the process has to be indepenent of the regulatory agency altogether, and that means adversarial since inherently challenging a regulatory fact determination.
    So I think having courts give less or no deference to agency fact findings is more effective. The reguator trots out its experts, and the challenges trot out theirs. But throwing that into the general federal court system would be an unending legal nightmare.
    So, this should be done in a special ‘regulatory science review court’ with streamlined procedures, like patent courts on patentability (not infringement actions). There could be special masters (science trained lawyers, for example, from other science subject matters to avoid bias– I went to law school with a Ph.D biologist who wanted to become a patent lawyer, a Ph.D geologist, two Ph.D economists (stats issues), and several just resigned military officers [after Vietnam] with engineering degrees) to weight evidence and present preliminary findings to the court, as done in many commercial disputes. Like a pretrial discovery process plus additional sorting of wheat from chaff stipulations. (Essentially court appointed masters would be similar to arbitrators in the dispute reaolution alternative to a lawsuit, but without arbitrations binding final authority.) There should be three judge decisions to avoid the costs and junk science dangers inherent in jury trials (newly, talcum powder causes cancer), or in single judge biases. Friend of the court briefs should be allowed in matters of relevant science fact only (not subsequent regulatory impact). (NGOs, put up or shut up.) The courts could be centralized and located in DC for convenience. The findings would be appealable only under narrow circumstances (matters of law, not court determined science ‘facts’, just as with existing patent court determinations). The mere threat of such an external specialized science court review process would tend to keep the prior internal agency science findings more balanced and less politicized, so fewer actual court proceedings would occur.
    Enacting legislation setting up such a simple and relatively low cost external adversarial science (only) review process across ALL regulatory agencies/cabinet departments would be simple and straightforword. I would except the FDA, which already has a specialized internal medical science review process using outside expert review panels, whose recommendations are heavily weighted in FDA decisions. And possibly the FCC, for essentially similar reasons.

    • I do not think we disagree. Judicial review of the agency’s scientific claims, a la NEPA, is in fact the best solution. But the Court has to have something specific to review, hence my proposals. I like your ideas.

      • DW, Good point about getting reviewable specifics first. Automatically exists with the patent application, examination file wrapper, and internal patent examiner’s appeal for the analagous patent court situation.

    • As a scientist in industry, I saw many attempts to “force” the science. Most companies (at least the good ones) had strict review procedures. The procedures usually included multiple reviews by technical managers from other divisions. These panels issued reports with questions that had to be answered before the project could proceed up the chain of command. Project failures were reviewed by yet another team, often from outside the company. Things overlooked by the review committee(s) would come back to haunt them. These procedures worked well, I don’t know how to translate them to government. Mostly, they depend upon the threat of firing or demoting someone who screws up, not sure if that can even happen in government. Plus when you bring in someone from outside, it has to be someone who knows the technology, with the EPA this would be from the companies they regulate.

      • God analysis, Andy, and I see no reason why what you describe cannot be implemented in the government. For example, under NEPA the Court does not rule on the science. They rule on whether the agency has properly answered all the important questions, such as you allude to.

        Then too, agency science advisory boards occasionally intervene in rulemakings, but the SAB members are generalists and their opinions are merely advisory. Toughening this machinery along the lines you describe might well help.

    • you might me interested to take a look at these fed agency papers just released.

      • Vuk

        They are very difficult to read due to redaction and their format. Was there anything in particular you wanted us to look at?

        I searched on their web site for climate change and global warming but it just went to a general index


      • Hi Tony
        That short comment was meant for the attention of Mr Istvan.

  7. In principle the suggestions might work, but in practice they they won’t work. For example, your SRP will most likely be packed by supporters of whatever “consensus” might exist. A better approach might be to require that science-based Executive Branch regulations be reviewed by Congress five or ten years later, to determine a) whether the scientific basis is still compelling, and b) whether the regulation has been effective. As Bud Bromley suggests, independent federal agencies have arrogated to themselves powers that should be exercised by the Legislative Branch. Congressional oversight is often a joke but this might give the regulators pause – to paraphrase Voltaire: conscience isn’t the voice of God but the fear of the oversight committee!

    • Later Review by Congress of science determinations wont work for three reasons. 1. Still politicized, when science should not be. That is the essence of the regulatory science problem. 2. Most Congresspersons are dumb as rocks comcerning science. Some are just dumb as rocks, period. 3. Why wait years when the damage can be irreparable. Needs to be prospective or nipped in the bud.

      • Nor does Congress have time for this. Thousands of highly technical regulations are passed every year. The controls need to be on the passage process, as with NEPA which works at the federal project level.

  8. David Wojick

    I believe that all of the Governmental agencies, including the Defense Department, NASA, NOAA and others have neither the time nor inclination to assess science even in their own particular fields. Rather, they preferring to have science laid out before them like some Middle Eastern Bazaar. Then the bureaucrats enlist help from selected scientists for consultation: “Should I go for this blue one? No No No Why don’t you look at the pink one instead?

    My experience has taught me that senior bureaucrats make the consultant selection under the aegis of White House guidance. This is no different than reading a shareholders meeting pamphlet where executives who are up for election are the province of the “nominating committee” and executive compensation is under the direction of the “compensation committee”. All one has to do in ferreting out extreme bias is look at who is on the nominating committee and compensation committee. See that this is a setup of lesser ranked corporate executive wannabes who make the “correct” decisions or else they are history. Legal corporate governance and theft.

    I don’t see how to fix the science coming out of such governmental places since the long lived effective bureaucrat is one who knows how to game the system from one administration to another.

    The only way I see to get change into government is to sunset each Department every 10 years. That way, every 2 1/2 administrations, the White House needs to trudge up Capitol Hill and request a new agency. Imagine what would have happened to EPA if it were to suddenly disappear altogether. Would the Clean Air Act look any different today than when first written in 1963? Would a revamped EPA have gone back to monitoring infrastructure instead of delegating monitoring infrastructure to states without the attached budget, saying: good luck folks; keeping the allocated dollars for a new whiz bang CO2 mitigation agenda?

    Sunset legislative provisions keep agencies from glomping onto unrelated items when either trying to preserve funding while riding out a budget slack or the survival or the agency’s personnel. What would happen if bureaucrats had to scramble for a new job/agency every 10 years? Far far fewer, and much more nimble bureaucrats. Reducing the size of Government. No longer viewing Government as a jobs program, a jobs program for those who may be otherwise unemployable.

    What would happen in an economic downturn to the size of the Government’s budget if some agency were “delayed” in funding. What would happen to the agency’s science that has been churned and churned when the funding stops. I do know that in some institutions, when a scientist’s money runs out, if the scientist is well connected, they frequently get a grace period from the institution, and then…. the scientists seem to go onto other things, and…science doesn’t have to advance only one funeral at a time.

    • +1000

      The current system is hopelessly rigged/incestuous.

    • Not bad.
      Personally, I think defined benefit targets including measurement and comparison methods should be part of any regulation – failure to meet predefined benefit target means regulation rescinded. By having measurement and comparison methods as part of the regulation, the result can’t be gamed by changing how you measure things and anyone can check performance.

    • The agencies certainly have the time to lay out the science, for review. For a major rulemaking they routinely spend millions on the Regulatory Impact Analysis and Technical Documentation, as required by the EO and A-4 (which I helped write). There is no reason they cannot be compelled to also do this for the science.

  9. As early as January 12, 2011, I posted the following recommendations in a comment on this site:

    “Too much wrong has been done. First, bring on the political revolution, to STOP ‘implementing climate policy’. Those who would implement know not what they do, get them stopped. Second, cast all of those defending the IPCC consensus, or even peer-review, out of their comfortable ‘authoritative’ positions, because theirs is the rottenness in climate science. Third, set up a new, independent authority, of hard scientists OUTSIDE of climate science, not in it, with the sole task of winnowing out the chaff that now inundates climate science, and identifying once and for all the true nuggets that should be built upon (such as the Venus/Earth data I recently advanced, as have others before me, that definitively disproves the greenhouse effect). It doesn’t matter if they don’t ‘know’ climate science, I guarantee they can learn, and learn it far better than the ‘consensus’ of today.”

    It’s past time you started listening to voices like mine.

  10. Gary Wescom was a bit abrupt, but his point is valid.

    My abiding opinion on the matter is that scientists, especially sceptics, need to deliver their science to politicians and the public in a more digestible form. Stop fighting the tide and row your own boat.

    It gets back to selling a product.

    A car salesman doesn’t blind the customer with the technicalities of the engine and drivetrain, he/she emphasises how much better their life will be, how much more fun/liberating/convenient it will be. They give the customer the information that will give them bragging rights, but simple stuff they can pass onto their mates easily and without technical confusion. “It’s very quiet” – (I’m not senseless when I reach my destination). “It’s roomy” – (Lot’s of space for the kids and dogs) etc. etc……..features and benefits.

    They don’t explain the technicalities of the aerodynamics, nor the composition or shape of the rubber door seals.

    All we sceptics are trying to do is sell a concept, but we have no features and even fewer benefits because scientists are lost in their craft.

    My hobby is building and repairing computers. Most scientists don’t care how the damn things work, just that they can do the job, they are reliable, the software is accurate and easy to use, perhaps they look good and as a nice bonus, they carry a brand that says something about the scientist themselves. But I could be talking about clothing here, jewellery, restaurants, cars, houses……etc.

    How a computer (smartphone) works is just as much a mystery to scientist’s as they are to most consumers, yet we all operate on the same consumer level with them, despite their bewildering complexity and speed of progress.

    Stop telling people how your mobile phone works. Instead, tell them how reliable your signal is, how convenient the apps are, how well it fits in your pocket, how light it is, how easy it is to use. God knows how Skype works, but I can talk to my granddaughter 400 miles away daily and she knows what I look like as well, even if I’m walking down the street!

    It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, not to your peers, there’s only a few thousand of them, but to your audience which, in the case of climate change, runs into billions.

    I’m a layman, I really, really struggle to make sense of all the scientific too and fro. This graph says this, that graph says that. He refutes her and she raises his philandering. 97% consensus? I can’t refute that, no matter how illogical it is because I don’t have a memorable, crushing response. I exist more on instinct as far as climate change is concerned.

    I flat out don’t believe that a trace gas, vital to plants, but 0.0003% (I have lost track of the zero’s) of all atmospheric gases can possibly affect an entire planet’s warming and cooling habits. Nor do I believe, for a nanosecond that it is more important to AGW than water vapour. And what have the AGW supporters convinced the entire world of? That there are two gases in the atmosphere, Oxygen and CO2. One is not a greenhouse gas and the other is. And water is? Well, it’s just water, we drink it, bathe in it, swim in it; and when it’s in the atmosphere it’s rain. How could water possibly affect the atmosphere and climate change?

    Whilst AGW supporters rally round the politicians and scientists to blind the world with confusing and often distorted facts, the best thing the sceptics can do is agree on some very basic strategies thrusting and eager politicians can understand, are irrefutable, and have instant appeal to the public.

    If a politician thinks he/she can easily sell a concept to his/her audience and win votes, you better believe they will be flocking to your door. Lies or not!

    I’m sure there is a Business department in your University Judith. Go and see them and ask how you deliver a message that’s truthful and sells your story. Then test it in the marketplace, because like climate change, sales is an ever-evolving experiment.

    Deliver people a Skype moment. They will ignore the technicalities and enjoy the results.

    • Much to commend. Then learn some skeptical basics. Yes climate changes–thank goodness we are neither in the last ice age or the LIA. Yes, CO2 is a GHG, and yes, theoretical physics says that bu otself a doubling would cause a 1.1-1.2C warming. Nothing to worry about. So it is all about two things. First possible amplifying feedbacks, mostly water vapor and clouds since the rest cancels. Those are modeled, but those models fail for three reasons. 1. Attribution. The warming from ~1920 to ~1945 cannot have been mainly CO2 driven. (IPCCAR4 WG1 SPM figure 4), yet the essentially indistinguishable warming from~1975-2000 is attributed to GHG. Natural variation did not magically stop. 2. Models falsified by producing a GHE ‘fingerprint’, the tropical troposphere hotspot, that in fact doea not exist. 3. Falsified models produce a median ECS of 3.2 (CMIP5), when several observational methods say it is actually ~1.65 and no problem.
      Even salesmen rehearse. Learn the script, sell the warmunist refutation.

    • This may all be true as far as communicating to politicians and the public is concerned, but my post is specifically about how to constrain the abuse of science in agency actions. This is a narrow, technical issue.

    • The Informed Consumer said:

      A car salesman doesn’t blind the customer with the technicalities of the engine and drivetrain, he/she emphasises how much better their life will be, how much more fun/liberating/convenient it will be.

      Ah, but the government scientists aren’t into making “life better,” nor in “liberating” anyone but themselves.

      These elitist, holier-than-thou control freaks, who seek to appropriate all the cachet that science has managed to stockpile over the past 400 years, are into making life worse, and making people less free.

      That’s a tough sell.

    • “It is no secret that a lot of climate-change research is subject to opinion, that climate models sometimes disagree even on the signs of the future changes (e.g. drier vs. wetter future climate). The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’ — and readers’ — attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.” Monika Kopacz, atmospheric scientist.

      “That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” – Prof. Stephen Schneider,
      Stanford Professor of Climatology,
      lead author of many IPCC reports

      In a nutshell, this is the approach of advocacy. Create “scary” scenarios that the media can promote to sell their product. The villains in climate wars are fossil fuel companies, and homo sapiens in general. Unfortunately, this story line sells well and is why so many believe that a trace gas that is essential to life on this planet is a pollutant that must be controlled at any cost.

    • Trace gas. Oh vey.
      Stop reading blogs.

      • It’s not a trace gas? What do you consider a trace gas?

      • You don’t expect an answer, do you?

      • “It’s not a trace gas? What do you consider a trace gas?”

        Its not a trace gas. The concept of “trace” is somewhat meaningless.
        For example, To a plant, c02 is a very important gas. You’d hardly call it a trace gas in the context of what is important to plants. No plant cares about the percentage of c02, they care about the parts per million.
        The same could be said for cyanide in your coffee. A small amount, you might use the word trace, would kill you. If somebody gave you a small amount and argued that it was only a trace… you’d, be a bit skeptical of his unscientific talk. As far as the laws of radiation, nitrogen ( 80% by volume) would be a “trace”, because radiation doesnt even SEE nitrogen, . On the other hand, radiation does SEE co2. C02 is relatively opaque to IR.

        Its like this. Imagine you have a mirror in front of you that is 1nch thick
        And 1mm of silver backing. that Silver backing is a “trace” material when you look at the total volume of the mirror. What’s that tell you?
        It tells you that you cannot simply understand a system by doing “percentages”. cause that silver reflects all of the light… in that example.. “glass” is really the ‘trace” material, because it largely doesnt matter. it lets all the light pass, while that tiny tiny amount of silver reflects the light.

        Now, you probably heard the word “trace” on the radio, or read it in a blog, and you never stopped to think..

        hey? that trace c02 is important to plants… maybe measuring things by volume is a first grade mistake. he a trace amount of cyanide is deadly..
        hey a trace amount of silver reflects the light…. hey a small amount of c02 also reflects… its reflects IR energy.. THAT is WHY if you are a FLIR engineer you know that the amount of C02 in the atmosphere can
        degrade your sensor performance… that why in the 1950s our Air force flew missions in the stratosphere to determine how much water vapor and c02 was there… why? because we wanted to build planes to hide from surface based IR systems… Yes, C02, even in small amounts, reflects IR. that is why when I worked on the stealth figther we looked at dumping c02 in certain ways to make our plane more invisible to IR..
        Yup, c02 reflects IR, even in small amounts.. its the principle used in every day common c02 detectors.. you watch for the attenuation of an IR signal.. you can go buy a c02 detector.. take it apart..

        Trace gas? only to guys like david, who forgot all that they ever learned in Philiosophy about doubt and evidence.

      • Steven Mosher: “Imagine you have a mirror in front of you that is 1nch thick
        And 1mm of silver backing”

        That backing constitutes almost exactly 4% of the thickness of the mirror, as opposed to the trace gas CO2, which constitutes 0.04% of the atmosphere, so hardly comparable.

        But hey, I suppose a difference of a mere two orders of magnitude is neither here nor there to a branch of “science” that is unable to distinguish the difference between zero and a million…

      • All fine and good, but there is a difference between how a biological organism responds to “trace” materials and how “trace” materials affect other physical entities. While physically trace amounts of poison can kill an organism, or, in the case of Co2, can spur growth, those same trace elements will have a trace effect on the physical entity if dispersed within the entity. A trace element 1mm thick that fully covers an area is not the same as co2 dispersed throughout the atmosphere – as well as the other 4 subsystems making up our overall climate system, so that is a false analogy, as is the trace amount of poison that can kill an organism. The climate system is not an organism, although organism do make up one part of the climate system and benefit from increased levels of co2.

      • At one molecule in 4000, CO2 is routinely referred to as a trace gas. This is common usage. Mosher wants his own language (in addition to his own facts).

      • Mosher, if any contributor to this blog better epitomises the perceptive observation of Upton Sinclair, I have yet to discover them.

        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

  11. Science, like the rest of our naton’s insitutions, is in deep, deep doo doo.

    And I don’t think appointing one set of scientist kings (unelected, unaccountable, technocrats) to oversee another set of scientist kings (unelected, unaccountable, technocrats) is going to solve science’s yawning credibility and legitimacy gap.

    Great article on the problem:

    Science in crisis: from the sugar scam to Brexit, our faith in experts is fading

    Science is tied up with our ideas about democracy – not in the cold war sense of science being an attribute of open democratic societies, but because it provides legitimacy to existing power arrangements: those who rule need to know what needs to be done, and in modern society this knowledge is provided by science. The science-knowledge-power relationship is one of the master narratives of modernity, whose end was announced by philosopher Jean-François Lyotard four decades ago. The contemporary loss of trust in expertise seems to support his views.

    Still, techno-science is at the heart of contemporary narratives: the convictions that we will innovate our way out of the economic crisis, overcome our planetary boundaries, achieve a dematerialised economy, improve the fabric of nature, and allow universal well-being.

    The appeal of reassuring narratives about our future depends on our trust in science, and the feared collapse of this trust will have far-reaching consequences.

    The cult of science is still adhered to by many….

    Many scientists are highly defensive of their work. They adhere to the deficit model, in its standard or glorified form, whereby if only people understood science – or at least understood who the true experts were – then progress would be achieved.

    Scientists often subscribe to the myth of one science, and promote actions for or against a policy based on their position as scientists.

    Many scientists defend the supremacy of expertise; if lay citizens disagree with experts, it is the former who are wrong.

    The conflicts described thus far involve values in conflict, of the type dealt with in something called “post-normal science”.

    Today, extended peer communities are set up by some activist citizens and scientists. This format encourages a humbler, more reflexive attitude. It suggests to citizens a more critical and participatory attitude in matters of science and technology, with less deference towards experts.

    New media provides fertile ground for these communities. “Could the internet be to science what the printing press was to the church?” asks the science and technology philosoper Silvio Funtowicz.

    If this process leads to reform in science and challenges the monopoly of knowledge and authority – as to some extent we see happening in health – then we might go some way to rebuilding trust in one of the most important facets of modern life.

    • I think this “science is broken” stuff is all just hype, ironically brought on by the politicization of climate science, which some of us warned about long ago.

      If a governmental process is not working right, you fix it. Radical solutions are generally not feasible, just as with energy production or any other human system.

      • David Wojick,

        For me, the issue is very personal.

        And let me assure you, the rot goes well beyond “the politicization of climate science.”

        Take a look, for instance, at Obama’s recent near-total ivory ban.

        U.S. Adopts Near-Total Ivory Ban

        Examine closely the “scientific” findings the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used in its procedures in promulgating its ruling.

        What you will find is that facts for these control freaks mean absolutely nothing, nor does the untold harm they cause.

        The only thing that matters for these folks is their quasi-religious save-the-word fanatacism, dressed up as “science” (of course), and their unchecked quest for more agency funding and more agency power.

        And the rulings of these power-hungry technocrats — masquerading in scientific drag (of course), with the claim of doing God’s work — cost average Americans (art and antique collectors like myself — who have skin in this game) untold amounts of money:

        Antique dealers say the new federal ivory ban will cost owners up to $12 billion

        Personally, I’m up to my eyeballs with the IYIs, their power grab, and their fake, do-gooder, self-righteous piousness.

      • David,

        You can’t fix the “abuse of science by federal agencies” problem without also addressing the “corrupted science / trust in science/ etc.” problems … they are interconnected.

        The “abuse” you bring up is allowed for by the atmosphere of corruption, politicization, agendas (both good and bad) etc…

        So unless you fix the atmosphere that allows for the abuse you mention … you won’t even begin to fix the problem itself. The problem will just take another form and start again or restart after a period of time.

      • Joseph, rulemaking has always been highly politicized but the existing controls have still been relatively effective, as far as they went. So I see no reason why we cannot now constrain the abuse of science by agencies.

  12. I would like to tell you of my latest book, “Human Caused Global Warming”.
    The Biggest Deception in History.
    Available on ‘’ and ‘Indigo/Chapters’.
    Trial date for Dr Michael Mann vs Dr Tim Ball, February 20th, 2017.

  13. A nicer approach is requiring Pareto optimal regulations. Nobody is made worse off by a new regulation.

    If they are, you have to view it as a taking and compensate them for their loss, which comes out of the agency’s budget.

    Once they have to pay for their regulations, they become more circumspect, science or not.

  14. David L. Hagen

    How to restore checks and balances?
    Who Will Regulate the Regulators? Administrative Agencies, the Separation of Powers, and Chevron Deference
    By Elizabeth Slattery, Heritage Foundation 2015

    James Madison called the accumulation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the same hands the “very definition of tyranny.” The Founders sought to prevent such tyranny and to safeguard Americans’ individual liberties by dividing the powers of the federal government among three coordinate branches. The modern administrative state, however, blurs the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances and has become an unaccountable fourth branch of government. Administrative agencies issue, enforce, and settle disputes involving regulations that have the force of law in every aspect of daily life. Though the courts have a duty to check the abuses of the political branches in appropriate cases, they rely on deferential doctrines in reviewing agency actions. Given the inconsistent application of Chevron deference and concerns about the separation of powers, the Supreme Court should reconsider when and how much deference is owed to administrative agencies.

    Judicial Deference to Inconsistent Agency Statutory Interpretations 2015

    Although administrative law doctrine requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable statutory interpretation, the doctrine is unclear as to whether an agency gets less deference when it changes its own prior interpretation. We formally analyze how judicial deference to revised agency interpretations affects the ideological content of agencies’ interpretations. We find a nonmonotonic relationship between judicial deference to inconsistent agency interpretations and interpretive extremism. This relationship arises because as courts become less deferential to revised interpretations, the initial agency finds it more attractive to promulgate a moderate interpretation that will not be revised. However, the less deferential the courts, the more extreme this moderate interpretation becomes. Normatively, our results suggest that an interest in responsiveness of interpretive policy to the preferences of the incumbent leadership favors deference to revised interpretations, whereas an interest in ideological moderation favors a somewhat less deferential posture to interpretive revisions.

  15. This is exactly backwards. Regulations don’t just come out of thin air. They come from the science in the first place, which is why they come with recommended safe levels for chemicals or gases in the environment, food, drugs, etc. By the time they get to that stage, the science has been done, and it is already at the application stage of the science. If people want to second-guess safe levels, they can do that and make their case with even more science, but it would be an endless process if we have to wait for each challenge to be tested before implementing a regulation.

    • This is true in principle but false in practice. Mission driven bias in the interpretation of the science is now widespread. The EPA endangerment finding is one of the clearest examples of this. EPA merely cited the IPCC and the Court refused to consider that issue, which was raised by the plaintiffs. With proper legislation, mandating clear, comprehensive assessment of the science by the agency (as with NEPA) the Court could provide proper oversight.

      Simply put, agency abuse of science is out of control, so new controls are needed.

      • You would just keep appealing it until you get the answer you want, then the other side would appeal, etc. Where does it end, and how does anything get past this endless cycle?

      • Jim D: “You would just keep appealing it until you get the answer you want”

        No Jimbo.

        You wait and see if its prognostications are actually borne out by subsequent events, unlike the multitude of those dire predictions vomited up by self-styled climate “scientists”, every last one of which has utterly failed to be correct for three decades and counting.

        And then you hold those responsible for the “research” and the costs accrued by the implementation of the findings of that “research” accountable for any costs and damages resulting therefrom.

    • Jim D: ” Regulations don’t just come out of thin air. They come from the science in the first place”

      No they don’t.

      Just look at all the ridiculous, often damaging regulations that are based on the linear no threshold assumption – an utterly unscientific concept in most cases – for evidence of that.

  16. Geoff Sherrington

    This Australian, not familiar with the detail of USA regulation, offers a thought on the topic of ‘How to constrain the abuse of science by Federal agencies’.
    When there is too much regulation, one is hesitant to suggest more, but this proposal should reduce other less elegant regulation.

    The basic proposal is to establish a Federal ‘Regulatory Panel for the Correct Expression of Uncertainty in Science.’
    The Panel would explain what uncertainty is, how it can be measured, how it is being measured, what existing standards apply and what should apply into the future. There would be past examples, such as the Hockey Stick, of consequences of less than complete expression of true error.The Panel’s establishment legislation would include the ability of the Panel to go before Courts to enforce its standards on the expression of uncertainty, to punish those who flaunt, to publish each year the names of the errant people, their publications, their publishing journal, their employers and their funding bodies when these are government agencies of any type. There would be powers to join in, or originate, international conventions to assist uniform and acceptable treatment of errors and uncertainties.

    I can think of no other simple measure that has more inherent and scientifically correct power to correct exaggeration and fantasy in science than this one.

    Please note that this proposal is essentially apolitical. I cannot see downside to it apart from its operating cost. It recognises that there is a proper reason for the correct use of uncertainty measures, a dominant one being provision of a rapid initial assessment of the worth of a publication. There is not much point in publishing when ones calculations show the main data to be swimming in the sea of uncertainty between upper and lower bounds as defined. Another advantage is that true uncertainty can be carried through to economic analysis and hence to policy decisions, such as using benefit:cost, analysis for the damage functions from stopping fossil fuel electrical generation by various amounts.

    Some comments. Some of my science career was applied to the discovery and evaluation of new ore deposits. It was not even considered that uncertain results would be fiddled to express greater certainty, or that error-filled results would be adjusted to give an illusion of respectability. There was simply no value of any significant type in expressing errors and uncertainties in other than the best and straightforward manner that we knew. Crooks might try evasion, but they would be detected quickly. Non-crooks would sleep better at night without the continuing fear of the impending knock on the door. Experience was that there was no real downside to doing error analysis properly, but much downside not to. (You can not ‘believe’ a non-existent ore deposit into existence, no matter how much you fiddle and fart.)

    Personally, I feel that acceptance of the principles of proper uncertainty analysis have been more due to ignorance of correct methods than to wilful abuse. It will take time to change the psychology of scientists who have lost their ways.


  17. Unfortunately these are problems that only The Lord could adjudicate.
    O.K., as a proxy one could a create a kind of religious order, ” The Holy Order of Scientific Righteousness” or something. (At which point one hears Julian Benda screaming about the “Trahison des Clercs”. (In French “clerc” comes from clergy.))

    One recent Institution along that line for study are independent central banks.
    As far as I see the outcome of this experiment is about as contested as the original problem.

  18. The goal is for the Federal Government to use sound science in its decision making.

    What do the EPA and the FBI have in common? They’re both agencies of the US government that the public used to think were above politics.

  19. Federal agencies have become like advertisers selling big government…

    You mean to say that the advertisers in this country lie, fib, distort, manipulate, deceive, bribe and brainwash consumers like me into buying things they haven’t the slightest need for?? ~Berke Breathed

  20. Lots of good comments and food for thought here. My take from the 1000 foot level is pretty basic. We no longer have a reasonably balanced press with any interest in exposing the many deficiencies discussed. In the past, enough bad actors were exposed and ruined to discourage future bad actors, but today this external review and control is largely gone.

    This seems counter-intuitive because most people assume that journalists advance by uncovering situations which impact news consumers, and news outlets profit by such activity.

    Sadly, most major media newsrooms are now agenda-driven and under top-down management. Management communicates with like-minded players through unofficial pathways in order to establish direction and methodology. Stories which run counter to predetermined memes are strongly discouraged. Journalists who stray outside of the direction “du jour” are discouraged in private and repeat offenders are shamed in public.

    In the end, viewers and readers fund this activity with their eyeballs, clicks, and subscriptions. Sadly we get what we pay for.

  21. :There is a recurring pattern of Federal agencies twisting science in order to support confiscatory actions. ”

    Probably the first statement that should undergo a rigorous audit by outsiders. Are critics like David actually working with the facts. We’ll start that audit. It’s neverending

  22. Somewhat off topic but the 7 hours of oral arguments from yesterday’s DC Court hearing on the Clean Power Plan are now available here:

    Fun for all.

  23. First premise. All information and methodology should be available to the public as a matter of course, unless an argument can be made in front of a court that it is a national security matter. All meetings and communications should be open to the public on a real time basis. (Web cams with an open feed would be nice ). All publications should be available on the internet simultaneous with publication. There should be no need to file a freedom of information request as all information would already be available. The point of surveillance should be to inform the American People of the actions of their government.

  24. There is a lot of precedence in addressing this issue. Science is unique in how it benefits us all so the precedents don’t transfer over easily. However, I think each has some merit to consider. 1) The civil service was created as a result of government corruption. Career civil servents operate under strict rules against benefitting in any way from government decisions. A crack in that armor has been widening for a long time as public/private partnerships, universities, and others have been put in commanding positions in the government through joint laboratories and agencies that effectively appoint heads, not as top managers but as researchers, like NASA GISS. There is nothing wrong with funding universities for specified research but the problem comes in when a researcher has split loyalties and is in charge of key decision making. So reducing the number on non-career positions in government would help a great deal. 2) Peer review lacks any form of standards. For peer review to be successful it needs to be more complete and consistent. As it is a peer reviewer simply personally chooses what he wants to review and comment upon, often thats a very narrow view of the science being presented for review. There is no measure or standard of completeness or consistency. 3) take a look at how science is funded. Science journals today pretty much operate on the same business model as the National Enquirer. There were some good comments on the issue of academic freedom in this column I think this month. 4) while I don’t see an easy translation, take a look at how other professionals operate, engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants with forms of licensing, accountability, obedience to standards. Academic freedom is a great concept and I endorse it. . . .just do it on your own time.

    All these professions fail from time to time and it isn’t a slam dunk a failure results in a punishment or loss of license but instead their work is measured against objective standards like in the case of science standards that say specify a range of alternatives to measuring uncertainty. This would be a huge undertaking but it could result in at least science papers used in public processes needing to rise above an established bar on all the key elements.

    I am a big proponent of science in public processes to inform decision making and I see so much abuse that I worry about it keeping science out of public processes when its dearly needed. Building society wide respect for science in public processes is absolutely necessary if we are going to live in a democratic society.and be successful doing it.

  25. “The basic idea is to assemble a review panel composed of experts on the science in question. Let us call this group the Science Review Panel or SRP”

    What science? Had we had a science in the first place, we wouldn’t be talking.

    What experts if we do not have a science?

    These proposals simply goes around in circles. We have a Panel already (IPCC) and we do not seem to be happy with. Will another panel be any different?

  26. David asked, “How to constrain the abuse of science by Federal agencies?”

    In 1976 I wrote to almost every member of Congress telling them the National Academy of Sciences, the private self-perpetuating group of scholars that Lincoln appointed to advise government on science and technology, was abusing their position as reviewer of budgets of federal research agencies for Congress.

    That problem persists, because we do not have another way to provide competent budget review of technical material for members of Congress.

    • I do not see this as an abuse of their position, given that Congress asks them to do this (from time to time, not regularly). They also analyze and propose research programs. And there certainly are other ways to get budget reviews, including commissioning outside review panels.

  27. The Marxist thinkers never give up:

    It is now a central challenge for the left, in Europe and around the world, to rescue internationalist politics from the disaster of capitalist globalization.

    The answer to surging nationalism is not to be found in the dream of a peaceful internationally integrated capitalism. There needs to be a radical left alternative that rejects nationalism and racism, that rejects the false equation of capitalist globalization with internationalism, and that fights for a new internationalism founded in workers’ solidarity.

    But, as Robert Hughes pointed out:

    For the fact is that Marxism lost its main bet at the outset. It wagered its entire claim to historical inevitability on the idea that humankind would divide along the lines of class, not nationality.

    In this it was wrong. Because the bonds of nationhood were so much stronger than those of class, the Revolution could only be exported in three forms: as direct conquest by Moscow, as in eastern Europe; by the reinvention of ancient, xenophobic, authoritarian structures with a “Marxist” veneer, as in Mao’s China; and as a handy form of rhetoric which gave “internationalist” legitimacy to nationalist chieftains and cauldillos, as in Ceacescu’s Romania, Castro’s Cuba, or any number of ephemeral African regimes.

    But the basic promise of Marxism, an internationale of workers joined as a transnational force by common interests, turned out to be a complete chimera.

    Nationalism survives.

    — ROBERT HUGHES, Culture of Complaint

  28. Government has grown so large that it has become the phatist political constituency.
    It has become the premier sector if the economy if one seeks secure benefits and retirement.
    I have heard car dealerships advertising instant loan approval for government employees.
    All others are questionable and second class.
    Why would they act in any other than their own interests?
    I shall wait patiently wait for benevolence to overtake them and relieve me of my growing sense of dread.

  29. “During a time of war, and great social and intellectual upheaval, Socrates felt compelled to express his views, openly, regardless of the consequences. As a result, he is remembered today, not only for his sharp wit and high ethical standards, but also for his loyalty to the view that, in a democracy, the best way for a man to serve himself, his friends, and his city — even during times of war — is by being loyal to, and by speaking publicly about, the truth.”[28] ~wiki

      • Hiram Johnson (1866-1945) – a Progressive Republican senator in California. His actual quote, ‘The first casualty, when war comes, is truth’, was said during World War 1. He died on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

      • Mao cliff

        In addition to the “fiscal cliff” we also face the “Mao Cliff

        To remain silent in the face of the Left’s enthusiastic UN/IPCC-approved anti-Americanism is the truth that Western academics cannot hide. Taxpayers no longer pay for value when after years of investment of sweat and sacrifice toward their goals, in the end the fruits of their desires, hard work and investment of time and money are nothing more than government revenues. The government-education complex is liberal fascism at work. When the Leftists ultimately bring America’s version of Chairman Mao to power the school teachers will be among the first to be sent to the farms. Those who refuse to provide value to society for value received–in a voluntary exchange among equals–will not be given the individual liberty of personal choice in any matter by their Chairman Mao.

  30. Dr. Curry,

    The quality of science used by Federal agencies is regulated under the Federal Data Quality Act.

    “Objectivity” is one required attribute for the quality of science. Objectivity in this context means:

    “(O)bjectivity” involves both the presentation and substance of information. 67 F.R. at 8459.

    First, in order for information to be considered objective, it must be presented in an accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased manner. Id. The agency must present the information in the proper context and identify the source (to the extent possible consistent with confidentiality protections) along with the supporting data or models so that the public can assess for itself whether there may be some reason to question the objectivity of the sources. Id.

    Second, the substance of information disseminated must be accurate, reliable and unbiased. Id. Agencies must identify the sources of the disseminated information, the methods used to produce it, and provide full, accurate, and transparent documentation. 67 F.R. at 8460.

    Sound statistical research methods must be used to generate original and supporting data and develop analytical results. Id. at 8459.

    Data subjected to formal, independent, external peer review, is presumed to be of acceptable objectivity, although such a presumption is rebuttable. Id.” (source: )

    The source for the Federal Register (67 FR 8452 et seq) is

    • True enough, Roger, but the DQA only applies to federally generated data. It does not apply to science or to the interpretation of science by the agency, as in a rulemaking. The latter is the focus of my post. Agency action and agency data are very different things.

      • Yes, it does apply to science. I posted this so you could read it and see. Quoting below from the 67 FR 8459:

        “b. In addition, ‘‘objectivity’’ involves
        a focus on ensuring accurate, reliable,
        and unbiased information. In a
        scientific, financial, or statistical
        context, the original and supporting
        data shall be generated, and the analytic
        results shall be developed, using sound
        statistical and research methods.”

        Notice the word “scientific.”

        The same 67 FR provides for means to challenge the agencies when any of the data quality requirements are unmet.

        Furthermore, many lawsuits are filed that challenge agency actions based on shoddy science. The law books have many such cases.

        Rulemaking also has requirements for using sound science. Where shoddy science is used, legal challenges may be brought.

      • David Wojick

        The word “scientific” here merely refers to the context. You can try to stretch DQA to apply to an agency’s interpretation of the science, but I know of no successful case thereof. Same for the litigation you refer to. One can always sue, but suing and winning are two different things.

        If you know of a case where someone has actually won against the government on the science I would love to see and study it. In the climate cases the Court has simply shrugged us off.

      • David Wojick

        And again, DQA only applies to federally generated data. If the agency cites the scientific literature, as it usually does, it does not apply.

      • There are dozens of cases, such as those listed in Law Professor Holly Doremus’ 2004 article on Best Available Science Mandate in agency actions, found at 34 Envtl. L. 397 (2004).

        In the ensuing 12 years, there have been plenty of others.

  31. Reblogged this on Vince Werber's Rants! and commented:
    I totally agree!!!

  32. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #243 | Watts Up With That?

  33. Too many government officials appear to accept the false premise that the science is settled on the issue of global warming, and the only remaining issues relate to which environmental policies are the best policies. How did policymakers reach the conclusion that the importance of good science is no longer part of the debate on policy decisions? The answer is the adoption by the Environmental Protection Agency of a largely unreported and nebulous concept called the precautionary principle. The principle states that “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States [read Countries] according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” (United Nations Rio Declaration, Principle 15, 1992). A liberal interpretation of this principle under the guise of implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 has enabled the EPA to promulgate thousands of new rules and regulations without thorough scientific analyses. The cost-effective part of the principle is apparently not relevant to the EPA.

    The fallacy in the EPA’s application of the precautionary principle is that possible, but unsubstantiated environmental problems associated with a warming earth may be no greater than possible, but unsubstantiated problems associated with a cooling earth. Under this reality, applying the precautionary principle and promulgating more environmental regulations makes no sense whatsoever. The damage that would be done by taking action based on the wrong premise, a warming or a cooling planet, nullifies the justification to take any action. What does make sense is the recognition of the absence of urgency to take actions that are not supported by reliable climate models and the need to rethink the direction of our climate research programs in the future.

    The only settled conclusion regarding climate science is that scientists now have neither the technology nor the databases to forecast long term global climate accurately enough to effectively guide energy policy decisions. The important unknown in the climate science business is the amount of the error in a prediction. It is not clear that the error analyses of climate change predictions have been rigorously addressed or well reported. A growing body of scientists worldwide now predicts that the global temperature over the next several decades will decline, in which case, current policies are diametrically opposite from the right policies and could produce irreversible and disastrous results for the economy and the electric power infrastructure and waste trillions of taxpayer payer dollars in the process.

    To begin the process of getting the country back on the right track, I recommend the following.
    1. Congress should direct the administration to suspend the promulgation of a flood of environmental regulations related to climate change that rely on current global circulation models as the bases for the regulations. No compelling urgency exists to continue to move forward with environmental policies that are not clearly supported by reliable climate science, notwithstanding the penchant of the EPA to rely on the Precautionary Principle to justify environmental regulations and side-step the need for science-based support. If necessary, cut off funding.

    2. Congress should authorize and fund a third-party, science-based audit of the entire EPA climate change program, which should lead to a return to unbiased environmental policies with real Congressional oversight. The EPA is duty bound to identify and define the problem, the uncertainties and alternative solutions with thorough, science-based analyses and to not be a political tool of policy makers, and this is simply not happening. Ample evidence exists to support a drastic change in direction. Congress needs to do something to get the country back on the right track again.

    • You might want to study this a bit more, Tom. For example, NEPA has nothing to do with environmental regulation. It requires environmental impact assessment for activities like Federal projects, permits, etc. Nor does EPA invoke the precautionary principle. It does consider the science, on paper, but it can claim that the science is whatever it likes.

      You might consider the specific actions I recommend in this post, especially a law providing for Judicial review of EPA’s scientific claims when it promulgates a regulation or other action.

  34. Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  35. David, I will look at the issue closer. My comments are based on my interpretation of the role of the EPA in a book written by an insider of the EPA who was actively engaged with the global warming/climate change issue and reviewed contributions to IPCC reports. I know little about the government bureaucracies and their relationships, but they do not seem to me to be as straightforward as you describe them.
    I would support any plan that would effectively provide independent oversight of the process that is producing a massive amount of misguided environmental regulations.