Whose science? A new era in regulatory “science wars”

09 November 2018  Vol 362, Issue 6415

Policy Forum
Whose science? A new era in regulatory “science wars”
By Wendy Wagner, Elizabeth Fisher, Pasky Pascual
Science09 Nov 2018 : 636-639 Full Access
Proposed reforms show a clear break with historical norms
Good laws need good science; however, good science is never guaranteed. Debate over the use of science in law is nearly as old as the laws themselves. With “science wars” waging in health and environmental regulation for at least three-quarters of a century, it is tempting to conclude that recent proposals for reforming regulatory science are similar to what has occurred in the past. They are not. They mark a sharp departure with the past because they legally constrain how agency scientists conduct the initial literature review and synthesis informing policy. Because the reforms generally take the form of legislation or regulation, they do not simply suggest best practices for conducting scientific analyses but establish legal lines that cannot be crossed. Moreover, even though they create legal ground rules for scientific deliberations, the reforms have not been developed by the scientific community, but by members of Congress and political officials. In providing a birds’-eye view of the legal developments in regulatory science over the past 50 years, we identify just how idiosyncratic these current reforms are and why the scientific community needs to be aware of their implications.