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University of Maryland Law Professor Rena Steinzor called for fundamental changes to the role of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in federal regulatory review, at a House Committee hearing held on April 30.  The Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Committee on Science and Technology has been examining OIRA’s functions and responsibilities, with the chairman stating:

“…Though rarely in the headlines, OIRA has, in the years since its creation under President Reagan, quietly become the most powerful regulatory office in the Federal government.”

Professor Steinzor noted that the nomination of Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s choice for OIRA chief,* is looming, thus it is appropriate to examine the office’s function.  Steinzor made three specific points:

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Today, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies regarding scientific integrity. It begins:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

It’s wonderful to have an administration committing so clearly to the use of science to inform health and environmental decisions. To make this happen, Obama has assigned the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy the responsibility for “ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch’s involvement with scientific and technological processes.” The memorandum specifies that the OSTP Director must do the following:

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I’ve written before about this project; now, we’re very close to finishing data collection and are looking for a few more government scientists to interview.

At the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University School of Public Health, we’ve launched a multi-part study to understand the current policies surrounding scientists’ work at government agencies and to create recommendations for policies that support strong science and the appropriate role of scientists and researchers within our health and environment agencies.

Many talented government scientists leaving the federal agencies that protect our health and environment, and one of the ways to attract and retain more scientists to these important positions is to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of government scientists are clearly delineated and protected. In addition to the problems of political interference with science that have made headlines in recent years, government scientists also face a unique set of challenges involving balancing their work as researchers, regulators, and applied scientists with their roles as employees of structured, hierarchical organizations.  

The major piece of the research is talking to actual government scientists – and that’s where we need your help. If you’re a current or former government scientist with an advanced degree and at least five years of experience working for a science-based health or environment federal agency, we’d like to interview you (more details below). Or, if you don’t meet that description but know people who do, we’d be grateful if you’d pass this information along to them, and/or direct them to this webpage.

Here are the official details:

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We’re delighted to learn that The Pump Handle’s own David Michaels has won the John P. McGovern Science and Society Award from Sigma Xi, the international honor society of research scientists and engineers. The award honors people who are highly visible and prominent spokespersons for the public understanding and appreciation of science.

Our regular readers probably already know that David champions the use of science to protect public health, whether the hazard is a butter-flavoring chemical or a drug. He’s known for exposing how product defense firms, sequestered science, and manufactured uncertainty can harm us. You can read all about these problems and solutions in his acclaimed book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.

Sigma Xi also announced three other awards: the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement went to physicist Deborah S. Jin; the Watson Chubb Award for Innovation to food-safety scientist Timothy D. Phillips; and the Young Investigator Award to Brandt F. Eichman.

We’ve posted a news release at DefendingScience.org, and Sigma Xi has details on all four awards.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has just released a report on the media policies at federal agencies, in order to assess “the degree of freedom with which science is communicated at federal agencies.” The nonprofit organization analyzed 15 regulatory and science agencies’ policies governing communication with the media and the public, and then surveyed a cross-section of federal scientists to learn how the policies are implemented.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the only agency to earn an “A” grade from UCS for its policy (though its performance is rated “needs improvement”), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration the lone recipient of an “F.” Here’s UCS’s explanation of the variation:

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I’m repeating myself here, but it’s for a good cause. At the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University School of Public Health, we’ve launched a multi-part study to understand the current policies surrounding scientists’ work at government agencies and to create recommendations for policies that support strong science and the appropriate role of scientists and researchers within our health and environment agencies.

Many talented government scientists leaving the federal agencies that protect our health and environment, and one of the ways to attract and retain more scientists to these important positions is to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of government scientists are clearly delineated and protected. In addition to the problems of political interference with science that have made headlines in recent years, government scientists also face a unique set of challenges involving balancing their work as researchers, regulators, and applied scientists with their roles as employees of structured, hierarchical organizations.  

The major piece of the research is talking to actual government scientists – and that’s where we need your help. If you’re a current or former government scientist with an advanced degree and at least five years of experience working for a science-based health or environment federal agency, we’d like to interview you (more details below). Or, if you don’t meet that description but know people who do, we’d be grateful if you’d pass this information along to them, and/or direct them to this webpage.

Here are the official details:

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In 1971 under the National Cancer Act, Congresss authorized the 3-person President’s Cancer Panel which is charged with monitoring the “development and execution of the National Cancer Program” and preparing periodic progress reports for the President.  Over the years, the Panel has examined quality of life for cancer patients, access to care issues, and lifestyle risk factors related to cancer.  The Panel’s focus for 2008-2009 is “Cancer and the Environment,” a topic endorsed by The Collaborative on Health and Environment (CHE) and the topic of a draft consensus statement released by CHE.

The Panel’s first meeting on “Cancer and the Environment” was held on Sept 16, with 12 scientific experts making presentations at the public event.  The speakers included Richard Clapp, D.Sc. of Boston University, Frank Mirer, PhD of Hunter College, Adam Finkel, Sc.D of UMDNJ (full statements provided below) and Devra Davis, PhD, Phil Landrigan, MD, Paul Shulte, PhD, David Kriebel, ScD, Jeanne Stellman, PhD, Christopher Portier, PhD, Jeanne Rizzo, RN, and Daniel Wartenberg, PhD. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m repeating myself here, but it’s for a good cause. At the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University School of Public Health, we’ve launched a multi-part study to understand the current policies surrounding scientists’ work at government agencies and to create recommendations for policies that support strong science and the appropriate role of scientists and researchers within our health and environment agencies.

Many talented government scientists leaving the federal agencies that protect our health and environment, and one of the ways to attract and retain more scientists to these important positions is to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of government scientists are clearly delineated and protected. In addition to the problems of political interference with science that have made headlines in recent years, government scientists also face a unique set of challenges involving balancing their work as researchers, regulators, and applied scientists with their roles as employees of structured, hierarchical organizations.  

The major piece of the research is talking to actual government scientists – and that’s where we need your help. If you’re a current or former government scientist with an advanced degree and at least five years of experience working for a science-based health or environment federal agency, we’d like to interview you (more details below). Or, if you don’t meet that description but know people who do, we’d be grateful if you’d pass this information along to them, and/or direct them to this webpage.

Here are the official details:

Read the rest of this entry »

The recent issues of Newsweek and TIME both carried sobering articles about the state of cancer research. Newsweek’s Sharon Begley reports that cancer is on track to claim 565,650 lives in the U.S. this year, and that number isn’t a whole lot better than it was in 1971, when President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act and made “the conquest of cancer a national crusade.”

Using age-adjusted figures, 199 out of every 100,000 Americans died of cancer in 1975; in 2005, it was 184 per 100,000. Much of the decline is due to improved survival rates for breast and colorectal cancers, and those successes come from earlier detection as well as advances in treatment. (One success that doesn’t show up in the statistics is the interventions that have reduced cancer patients’ suffering, which is important from a quality-of-life standpoint.) As TIME’s Bob Saporito points out, though, several forms of cancer – including pancreatic, lung, and brain – “are still nearly invincible.” Begley also cites rising death rates for lung cancer, melanoma, and liver cancer.

There are reasons why cancer is harder to beat than other diseases; for one thing, it’s actually dozens of different diseases. “By the time there are 10 cancer cells, you probably have eight different cancers,” one scientist tells Begley. Tumors can use several different pathways to grow, and drugs typically close off just one at a time. Most research is conducted by transplanting human tumor cells into mice, but those tumors almost never metastasize the way they do in humans. (Read all of Begley’s article for details on these, and for the evolution in how scientists think about attacking cancer.)

The problem that both Begley and Saporito zero in on, though, is the way cancer research is conducted.

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by revere, cross-posted at Effect Measure

The Health Care Renewal blog has made a business of chronicling the undreside of the American health care system: fraud, conflicts of interest by respected academics, bureaucratic incompetence and malfeasance. I do basic research and don’t get involved in health care delivery so I only refer to them occasionally, but it’s a terrific resource — if you like that kind of thing. Last week, however, they hit pretty close to home. Not literally, but professionally. I’m a cancer epidemiologist and in a long career have made frequent use of state cancer registries. If you don’t know what a cancer registry is, it is a state-based unit that collects information on all diagnoses of cancer made in a state. Data is usually supplied by clinical laboratories and hospitals. States with registries (and I think all have them now, pursuant to a law from a few years ago) in effect make cancer a legally reportable disease. They are enormously valuable for people like me and they also provide a running check on what kind of cancer is appearing and where the person lives. Keeping track of this and making sure the record is as complete and accurate as possible is vitally important for public health and additionally for researchers (like me). It’s a public function that provides a common good, like other kinds of viral records. So I was shocked to learn via Health Care Renewal that Maryland, home state of Johns Hopkins, had outsourced their cancer registry to a privately held for-profit company — with predictable results. This from a Baltimore Sun article linked there:

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