James Madison, whose birthday we celebrated Wednesday, wrote in an 1822 letter: “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”
Not that our vast modern government can run without science — it can’t. But it can certainly run without the agenda-driven regulation science that has become “the fifth branch of government,” which rationalizes oil drilling bans and ruinous rules against carbon dioxide emissions. Any scientist who dares to dissent is attacked like Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People.”
The political horror of government science is the legion of nonprofit organizations that defend the regulators. Big Green advocates litigate in courts that are not allowed to second-guess the judgment of regulatory agencies. When Big Green wins, agency appointees have more decision- making power than Congress.
What to do? We can’t just throw out all the scientists. George Washington University Research Professor Susan Dudley, former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said:
“I found that bringing together scientists with different expertise from different agencies sometimes encouraged constructive discussion of approaches, models and assumptions that challenged insular views. For example, Food and Drug Administration scientists apply different assumptions and models for assessing risk than EPA scientists, leading to very different assessments of health risks.”
But these tight little islands of government scientists have an Achilles heel: They check their own work. It’s called peer review. It’s a prerequisite to getting their science published, and that’s the key to a thriving career.
It’s a panel of expert guards whose job it is to catch flaws and send the scientist back to the lab to do it right. Or just reject the report, which government reviewers may do for scientific or political and ideological reasons.
However, if you’re a government scientist and the peer reviewers share your biases or get paid by the same regulatory agency, this could happen: Your reviewers gather over drinks with other reviewers and illicitly share data — or your scientific work may be negligent, falsified or imaginary and regulators won’t complain. Who will regulate the regulators?
A good fraction of bad government science could be prevented by a law with this provision: “Reviews may not be performed by an employee of an agency responsible for the provisions or enforcement of the policy informed by the science being reviewed, or an employee of or an affiliate of the entity that performed or helped fund the science being reviewed.”
That’s the work of Washington state Rep. Shelly Short, a Republican lawmaker in a state plagued by runaway regulators throttling the economy. Last year, Short met expert consultant Norman MacLeod, which led to drafting a bill containing the provision above.
Immediately, the state environmental and wildlife agencies panicked, shooting back ridiculously high cost estimates for outside reviewers to a legislature fighting a multi-billion-dollar deficit.
HB 1307 failed this year. Rep. Short told the agencies that her bill was not their worst nightmare, she was. She’ll be back with it — and more political support — next session.
Examiner contributor Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.