By Alvin Powell, August 10, 2018
Nearly 100 leaders and faculty members at Harvard and its affiliated hospitals have signed a letter calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its proposed rule on scientific “transparency,” saying that the change would drastically limit the scientific and medical knowledge that underlies a host of EPA regulations that protect human health.
The letter’s 96 signatories include Harvard President Larry Bacow, the deans of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the presidents of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear. It says that the EPA’s push to require studies to reveal the material that supports their conclusions would bar the best available science from being considered in the regulatory process.
“It does not get at what they’re trying to do,” said Francine Laden, professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School and one of the signatories. “Having data available for anybody to look at does not guarantee you have validity.”
The letter was drafted by Wendy Jacobs, Emmett Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and director of Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, together with clinic staff and with input from faculty members about the rule’s potential scientific and health ramifications. It was submitted to the EPA on Tuesday during the public comment period on the proposed rule, which is called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.”
The letter, which concludes by urging the EPA to withdraw the draft rule, is one of two that Jacobs said the clinic will submit. The second will focus in more detail on what she described as the rule’s numerous legal deficiencies.
The rule would require that the raw data supporting scientific conclusions on which EPA regulations are based be publicly available. Supporters of the move — including former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who submitted the proposal in April — argue that the rule would allow the underlying science to be independently validated. In announcing the proposal, Pruitt hailed the end of “the era of secret science at the EPA” and said the reproducibility that it would enable is “vital for the integrity of the rulemaking process.”
The proposal quickly drew criticism from analysts and scientists concerned about its impact on EPA regulations. In May, members of the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board criticized the proposal, saying it was drafted without input from scientists. A month later, then-Harvard President Drew Faust wrote to Pruitt that his criticism of “secret science” misrepresented a process that has an obligation both to use private health information for the greater good and to protect subjects’ privacy.