In a recent Washington Post op-ed, a liberal writer frets over what the Republican-controlled Congress might do to the Environmental Protection Agency. Listing a handful of bills that have thus far been trounced by Democrats, he finds one particularly worrisome. The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, previously sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, aims to make sure said advisory panels are properly representative of scientific thought.
That, of course, is madness. Opponents of the bill are scared that it could allow conflicts-of-interest to invade these panels. In other words, scientists paid by the oil industry could hold away over the EPA’s oil-industry regulations. The writer, along with other like-minded liberals, see this as a recipe for disaster. Bills like the ones proposed by Republicans could – gasp! – slow down the EPA. They could force the EPA to cut back on the number of regulations it spews forth every year. Oh no, what will we do with fewer regulations?
Conflict of Interest, You Say?
Putting aside the obvious benefits of a hamstrung EPA, the concern over scientists with conflicts of interest advising the agency is particularly amusing. Because science is rife with these conflicts already. Liberals don’t notice them, of course, because they aren’t inclined to. If a study is funded by a non-profit environmental group, no conflict of interest is detected. If a study is funded by a Democratic administration, no conflict of interest is detected. But those conflicts are every bit as real as the ones the left fears.
A 2012 survey of social psychologists in the United States found that Democrats outnumbered Republicans 14 to 1. That’s soft science – not the kind relied upon by the EPA – but it illustrates a conflict that goes beyond direct funding. When the entirety of the scientific establishment is biased towards liberalism, the focus is narrowed to the field’s detriment. Conservatives are shunned, their explorations are shoved aside, and they are made to feel unwelcome in the clique. Then, when a study comes out funded by, say, the Heritage Foundation or a private company, liberal writers jump all over the “conflict of interest.” But when a study comes out from this or that prestigious university, no conflict is detected.
The other factor influencing the liberal bias in science is that smart conservatives tend to, you know, actually want to make some money with their advanced degrees. Given the choice between going to work for the oil industry or a poorly-paying nonprofit (or a university), they may well choose the oil industry. Does that make their scientific credentials any less valuable? Of course not. But it does mean that their views are marginalized by the well-bred, haughty liberals in tweed jackets. And so the circlejerk continues.
Anything that puts the brakes on the EPA can only be considered a good thing. If Republicans manage to open the doors to some conflicting viewpoints, so much the better. Whether the topic is climate change, evolution, or gravity, the science is never settled. The moment you hear otherwise, you know you’re no longer listening to science. You’re listening to a political argument.