Scientists, the EPA and law

Forewarning: I tend to play devil’s advocate. A lot. I’m openly skeptical of anything I perceive as quick judgement.

I don’t know the details, as I haven’t read the bill people are saying prevents scientists from talking to the EPA, or read an article that actually quotes the relevant portion. But I *suspect* it’s similar to Wikipedia’s policy (which I loathe, personally.). The idea (on Wikipedia) is that you shouldn’t be able to take your opionions and pass them off as authoritative without those opinion having gone through a vetting process, such as peer review or being published elsewhere.

Be mindful that there’s a difference between a published paper and related information espoused by one of the authors. The published paper has been peer reviewed (though if you follow the blogs of the professors who actually do these reviews and talk about the process, you realise that it’s almost meaningless), and can be taken as such only as a whole. Paraphrase, reword, or reinterpret it, and you’re no longer communicating the reviewed idea.

Take the John Birch society, for example. They were the guys who were described as paranoid over floridation of the water supply. In reality, they weren’t making arguments about the effects of the floride, but that individuals have the right to decide what goes into their own bodies. I know of nobody who can defensibly argue that floride in the water is bad for public health; that argument would be bunk. But the idea that we have the right to self-determination on the subject? That’s a defensible position.

Now let’s take an individual, paranoid member of said society. Let’s say that the published, defensible argument is that people have a right to self-determination, and this publication had this individual as an author. But let’s say the *motivation* for backing that argument, for this individual, is that the individual thinks floride treatments are part of a mind control program.

Would this individual, in individual conversation, stick to the defensible and sane argument? Almost certainly not; that’s the point of individual discussion, to expound upon what’s published.

Likewise, is a scientist or researcher going to limit what he conveys to the strict letter, meaning and scope of published, peer-reviewed documents? Absolutely not! He’s a human just like anyone else.

Science isn’t a licensed profession. There’s no certification necessary to be called a scientist. At best, there’s a vague idea of an academic pedigree. But even that’s not really cared about if someone is popular enough. I mean, what the hell does Neal de Grass Tyson have to do with arguments about climatology or biology? His expertise is in astronomy. But somehow he’s the marketer for much more. And Bill Nye?

Now, here’s where it gets particularly sticky. Scientists are treated as *gods* among us. They’re idolized, worshipped, and held on high. Think of all the times you’ve seen something silly accompanied with “FOR SCIENCE!” or an argument backed with a thin appeal to authority, “because science!”, or even a simple mocking “We’ve accomplished X. Science, bitches.” Now imagine if one of these gods gave testimony that wasn’t actually intellectually sound? What do you do? Call out a god in front of his worshippers?
So I’d like to know what exactly this bill says, and how it can be figured to exclude proper scientific opinions, since it’s hard enough to even define what those *are*.
As XKCD once noted, “did you know you can just *buy* lab coats?!”

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