Should Politicians Defer to Scientists?

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

That's among the questions a new high-powered group in Washington, D.C., will consider as it launches the first major nonpartisan effort to study how the government ought to use scientific information to make decisions. "We will be looking at what policymakers can do that is legitimate and what is beyond the pale," says David Goldston, an organizer for the 13-member panel. They'll meet for the first time next month and hope to release their one-and-only report in June.

Goldston says the group is not trying "to dissect what the Bush Administration has done right or wrong" in the consideration of scientific information for decision-making. Instead, it will examine federal advisory boards, conflict-of-interest policies, how different agencies consider scientific advice, and what role scientists should play in decisions by regulatory agencies such as the FDA or EPA. 

So far, most of the work on the topic has been by journalists or the left-leaning  nonprofit group Union of Concerned Scientists, whose reports have criticized the Bush Administration on issues including the editing of federal scientific reports and the pressure that government scientists may encounter as they seek to influence policy or speak to reporters about their findings. But this group includes former Bush Administration officials, former Science Committee chair Sherry Boehlert, former Science magazine editor-in-chief Don Kennedy, industrial officials, academics, and even, yes, the UCS, represented by its president, Kevin Knobloch.

Goldston, a former staff director for the House Science and Technology Committee, says the effort is sponsored by the Packard and Hewlett foundations as well as ExxonMobil and is run out of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a relatively new Washington group.

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