Science and the EPA Administrator

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson spoke at the Power Shift 2011 conference. She had this to say about the role of science in her administration;

Let’s take a minute to look at a little bit of the road over the past two years. We restored science to its rightful place as the backbone of everything the Environmental Protection Agency does. And that includes the science of climate change. We are using that science to take action on climate change.

No, no, no. Like so many on the Left, Ms. Jackson is using science as an Authority for political action. The problem is that science is not an infallible Authority, but rather is a method for asking the questions. Anyone who states that the science is settled is either misinformed or being deceptive. the science is never settled and any hypothesis in only as good as the last experiment or observation. In this light, I would like to quote the late, great Richard Feynman. At his 1974 Caltech Commencement address he referred to “cargo cult science” and had this to say;

But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated. Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition. In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

If Ms. Jackson were really interested in bringing science to the EPA, she would adopt this skeptical attitude and insist on the most rigorous testing of every assumption or hypothesis that the EPA uses to formulate policy. I don’t see that happening.

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