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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDFBlog

Note: We accidentally posted the contents of an earlier Richard Denison post (available here) under this title. We’ve updated the post, and apologize for the error. – TPH Editors

Please help me welcome to the true mainstream of scientific and medical thought the seemingly radical yet commonsense notion that chemical exposures are a significant contributor to cancer, many types of which are rising in incidence even as overall rates decline.

This morning, the President’s Cancer Panel released its 2010 report [available here].  The report is remarkable not so much for its core finding that chemical exposures are a major factor in human cancer, but rather because of its source – an authoritative and bipartisan body — and because of the strong linkages it makes to our failed chemicals policies.

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The Pump Handle is pleased to provide the full text of an article, published in the Bureau of National Affairs’ “Occupational Safety & Health Reporter,” on SKAPP’s Scientists in Government project report.*

by Stephen Lee

A study of scientists’ opinions at 13 federal agencies, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, found that many feel political pressure guides much of their work.  The research, published March 3 by the George Washington University Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, said scientists at NIOSH felt the agency deliberately avoided research that might lead to controversial findings for fear the agency might be eliminated.  One senior NIOSH scientist was quoted in the report as saying,

“All research areas are dictated from management, and you must be limited to doing research in these specific areas. As a consequence, eight people have left within the last two years alone. They felt they weren’t being treated as full scientists.”

The 100-page report , Strengthening Science in Government: Advancing Science in the Public’s Interest, interviewed 37 participants at 13 federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture.

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Exactly one year ago, President Obama issued a memorandum on scientific integrity that gave the Office of Science and Technology Policy 120 days to “develop recommendations for Presidential action designed to guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch” based on six principles that Obama specified. OSTP solicited public input to inform its drafting of the recommendations.

It’s now been 365 days, and OSTP hasn’t released its recommendations. Why the delay? Since President Obama issued the scientific integrity memo during his first hundred days in office, this is evidently an important issue for him.

Although advocates for scientific integrity have welcomed many of Obama’s decisions and appointments, threats to the integrity of government science haven’t disappeared. As I noted last week, my colleagues and I have just released a report on scientists in government, and we found that many policies and practices need to be strengthened in order to ensure that federal-agency scientists can do their best work. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been tracking the Obama administration’s progress on several aspects of scientific integrity, and they find that while the administration has made progress, it still has a long way to go.

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My colleagues and I at the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy have spent the last two years investigating the working environments of federal-agency scientists who address health and environmental issues – and today we’re finally the releasing the results of our research. Our report, Strengthening Science in Government: Advancing Science in the Public’s Interest, describes both the problems we identified and specific solutions that we recommend.

When we started this process in 2008, we were most concerned about cases in which scientific work on climate change, reproductive health, and other important topics was being suppressed, distorted, or ignored. During in-depth interviews with current and former federal-agency scientists, we learned that many scientists have indeed experienced or witnessed this kind of interference with scientific work. (Read the “Influences on Government Science” section, starting on page 74, for specific examples.)

What became clear as the research continued was that this kind of deliberate interference with science isn’t the only thing we should be worried about. Scientists from across several different agencies expressed frustrations about excessively long and difficult processes for getting research projects or publications approved. Most of these practices were probably adopted with the best of intentions, like making the best use of taxpayer money in choosing which research projects to support or ensuring that publications that bear an agency’s name meet high standards. The result, though, is that too many scientists feel they’re spending too much time doing things like responding to reviewer comments and too little time actually conducting scientific work. Some reported that they have colleagues who’ve gotten so fed up with the publication clearance process that they’ve stopped writing journal articles about their research.

Another striking finding was scientists’ feelings about Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

The Nature blog, The Great Beyond, has an interesting although not surprising report of accusations on BBC that a cabal of researchers has been impeding publication of important stem cell research to help themselves or help their friends:

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by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

Every two years the US National Science Board does an analysis of how the country is doing on research and development (R&D). While an important measure of the ability to innovate and compete in a highly competitive and globalized world, I have a hard time getting excited about how this is being portrayed as a horse race, who is ahead, how is coming on strong, who is slipping behind. I’m a scientist and I don’t think of this as a national competition. I understand how the President’s science advisors might, since they are interested in science as a handmaiden to the economy. But if someone in China or Belgium discovers how to cure cancer, fine with me.

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by Rena Steinzor, cross-posted from CPRBlog

What Progressives Expect from OIRA: An Open Letter to Cass Sunstein

Dear Cass:

As you know, we picked a spat with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) last week over Randy Lutter’s supposedly temporary detail appointment to your office.  It’s not the first time we’ve criticized the workings of OIRA, and almost certainly won’t be the last. 

I’ve spoken to a number of people in the media and elsewhere who have expressed surprise that progressive organizations like CPR are such relentless critics of a progressive Administration.  I’m sure Administration officials feel this frustration as well.  That dynamic is at work in OIRA’s case because you have a reputation as a progressive thinker on many issues.

I won’t try to speak for all progressives, but I can assure you that very few of us criticize the Administration lightly.  Nor do we do it with any sense of pleasure. 

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Evidence continues to accumulate that talking on the phone while driving – even with a hands-free device – increases the risk of car crashes. We learned earlier this week that officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been concerned about this problem for years, but declined to go public with research that would have demonstrated the need for legislative action or send a letter to the Transportation Secretary warning that state hands-free laws wouldn’t solve the problem.

NHTSA materials related to cellphones and driving came to light thanks to the nonprofit groups Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, which obtained the documents under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and passed them along to the New York Times. Reporter Matt Richtel explains what was in the documents and why the agency decided not to release them:

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It is with deep sadness we inform you of the sudden passing of Kathyrn R Mahaffey, PhD.   Kate had an exceptional and diverse career, with appointments at FDA, NIOSH, NIEHS and EPA.   Most recently, Kate served as a Professorial Lecturer at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Her husband, David Jacobs offers the following remembrance and tribute to her significant contributions to the public’s health.   Information about a memorial service appears at the end of this post.

Kathryn R. Mahaffey passed away peacefully in her sleep June 2, 2009 after decades of work that advanced the nation’s health and environment.  She is remembered as a beloved wife, mother, scientist and community member who served as a source of inspiration with her principled and tireless intellect.  She was the rare scientist who knew how to apply the lessons from academic research to protect the public heath.  Her work changed the face of epidemic heavy metal poisoning, endocrine disruptors and many other environmental pollutants that afflict children, pregnant women and at-risk populations. Literally millions of children have avoided the tragedy of lead and mercury poisoning as a consequence of her work. 

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We were delighted in March when President Obama issued a memorandum on scientific integrity, stating, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues.” The memorandum gave the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 120 days to “develop recommendations for Presidential action designed to guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch,” based on six specific principles.

OSTP in turn is asking the public for comments that will help it craft the recommendations. If you have thoughts about scientific integrity in the federal government, and the recommendations that OSTP should give to the president, submit your comments by next Wednesday, May 13th. Details about what kind of comment OSTP is seeking and how to submit comments are in the Federal Register notice; also, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has been a leading voice for scientific integrity over the past several years, has posted a webpage that includes links and information for those preparing comments.

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