Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Politics and risk assessment

Political interference with science (or just ignoring scientific findings altogether) has gotten a lot of attention under the Bush administration. An editorial in this week’s issue of Nature brings up an example of science ignored.

Apparently, in 2006, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) drafted a new bulletin on risk assessment (including a new definition of risk assessment and new standards for its application). The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the draft at the request of the OMB and several other federal agencies. A two word excerpt from the NAS report sums it up: “fundamentally flawed.”

A press release issued in January of 2007 quotes the chair of the NAS committee that produced the review as saying:

We began our review of the draft bulletin thinking we would only be recommending changes, but the more we dug into it, the more we realized that from a scientific and technical standpoint, it should be withdrawn altogether."

If this all happened months ago, then why is it the subject of an editorial in Nature? Because the draft bulletin is still alive and kicking. According to the editorial, the draft is under revision. I suppose that’s a good thing, but what kind of revision can fix something that’s fundamentally flawed?

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