There is a bill named by congress
The HONEST Act
. This bill, which has been passed by the house, seeks to change how the EPA functions. We will discuss this bill and the philosophy of these actions with regards to how they may affect not only the EPA and its function, but the future and retroactive effects that will be seen on the entire natural science research community. The HONEST act, which is named by congress using the now traditional double-speak method of attaching a name that contradicts the contents of the bill. This same double-speak methodology has been utilized by many elected politicians going back at least to the 1970’s in the United States, but has almost certainly been a key tactic of those who wield political power perhaps continuously since the formation of civilization.
Until recently in the communication age, with access to media that billions of people are connected to, the spread of misinformation and persuasion of nefarious tactics such as double-speak is noteworthy and important to discuss. It is especially noteworthy to mention with regards to the bills that congress produces and how these bills are represented by the media to the public. We will shortly cite two previous instances in recent times where a bill or supreme court case has utilized doublespeak in the title. The 2012 Supreme Court Ruling of “Citizens United” allowed the definition of ‘citizen’ or ‘person’ to circumscribe the entities of corporations. The 2013 Internet Freedom act would have allowed corporations to restrict internet connection bandwidth and access to specific content. In references to these two examples it is fitting how congress has named the HONEST act passed by the house March 29, 2017. Although the names of bills do not necessarily reflect their content, and the two at times seem to be diverging, it is important to note that no matter the name of a bill, it contents are what should be the main focus.
The HONEST act is constructed to regulate the EPA and the EPA’s ability to function. Specifically the HONEST act will limit the EPA from utilizing previous research that is both non-reproducible or is based on data that is not fully available to the public. The name of the Act may suggest that the act will force the EPA to report honest conclusions from the literature and the research which they pay for directly. In order to examine the contents of the HONEST act we must contextualize the meaning of the restrictions that would be imposed upon the EPA. The conservative majority, and the authors of the HONEST act, almost certainly see this bill as a way to limit the EPA in scope and function. This is expected, and the nature of the bill can be seen to perhaps be effective in doing that. At the very least there seems to be a good argument that the bill, as it is now, will probably limit the EPA in scope and function. To see the concern of this post, The HONEST Act has secondary functions regarding the area of research related to the EPA. Ideally we could discuss these secondary functions of this HONEST act with congress directly. Hopefully if Ourwrites is successful we as a community will have the ability to communicate with the legislature directly regarding these secondary effects of this bill. As it stands now, outside of emailing them, we are prohibitively restricted in facilitating this conversation. Thus, and without having had this conversation with the legislative, we will assume that the legislative have considered these secondary effects and justify them. The justification of the secondary effects of the HONEST act may include, we assume, ideologies related to how these secondary effects will cause the best science to be used by the EPA, and subsequently produced by researchers. It is from this exploration of an assumption relating to the indirect effects of the HONEST that I write this post. Albeit the manifestation of this post may seem to have abstract origins, I would argue that the need for this post, and hopefully this discussion, arises from the equally convoluted and abstract logic used in writing the HONEST act.
As mentioned above there are two points in the HONEST act, both points restrict the type of literature that the EPA can use for reporting. Specifically the first point we will discuss limits the EPA from using research associated with ‘non-reproducible’ data. The second point we will discuss limits the EPA from using research associated with data that is not fully available to the public. Thus we are concerned with the argument of how this bill will affect the overall scientific and research community, and we will mostly avoid discussion of the primary argument of the bill which is, most likely, to limit the EPA in scope and function.
There are two fallacies associated with the logic, regarding the hypothetical arguments from supporting of the secondary effects of The HONEST act. The first fallacy is associated with the hypothetical argument that, all non-reproducible data should not be allowed to influence the conclusion of research. The second fallacy is associated with the hypothetical argument that data which is not available publicly should be considered insufficient until it is publicly available. We will discuss the errors in logic, or fallacies, and the assumptions that they may inspire. We do these things to discuss the errors in logic, not to conclude that these errors cause the fallacious assumptions to be false, as this would mean we ourselves are entertaining fallacies.
The first assumption is that the quality of data is represented by its ability to be replicated. The origin of this assumption must come from the assumption that the ability to reproduce data is directly associated with the data quality or accuracy. First of all, it should be obvious, that time series data can not be reproduced and its validity is inherently disconnected from its reproducibility. Discounting this idea and to focus on other more important extension of this fallacy into other systems, we consider the systems that are reliant upon complex dynamics such as weather data or ecological data. We see that the system maintains a state that moves continuously as the state space of the system changes temporally and geographically. Any data collected, or research produced, regarding such systems may fit the interpretation of unreproducible or non-reproducible. A definition as just described, to include systems showing complex dynamics, would circumscribe a significant portion all the natural and life science research, and concurrently much of the EPA’s research.
The second assumption is that the data which is not freely available is not sufficient to include in EPA reports. The weakness of this argument is that some data is restricted from being published freely with the manuscript. In research projects that return to the same sites year after year it can be important that the exact location of these sites are withheld or manipulated so that no one reading the manuscript can easily find the exact location where data is collected. The reason behind hiding these locations is so that outside parties cannot intentionally manipulate the sites in order to change the outcome of the data collection and thus the overall report. The strength of the argument, of not allowing the EPA to use literature whose data is not freely available, comes from the lack of having outside analysis done using the same data. If data was always available for literature that the EPA uses to write reports then outside analysis could be done on all the data that the EPA bases its reports on. The importance of this could be to determine if the data is being biasedly analysed for a specific agenda. This is not a bad argument, but in this instance there is already checks and balances in place, the peer review system allows for top researchers in the field to review the methods used prior to publication of literature.
To conclude, The HONEST Act, shows us how the use of doublespeak in the naming of bills allows the legislature to influence the discussion of the bills, perhaps to, misdirect the focus away from the most influential effects of the bills. In this case the HONEST act engenders discussion of limiting the EPA to provide more ‘honest’ scientific research for their reports. While in reality the bills most significant effects will be to force the EPA to use perhaps less credible, or appropriate, literature for their reports. Looking into the future you may see that the long term effects of the HONEST act could influence what types of research is performed. Researchers may be more influenced to perform research that conforms to the regulations and restrictions presented by the HONEST act. This distracts from the natural ingenuity and importance of scientific research, in that classically good research is research that is influenced to answer the hardest and most important questions that can be answered at the time. From there the knowledge base can grow, expanding to more questions that can be asked and answered, leading to ideally the enlightenment of mechanisms which make up complex systems. The efficiencies and performance of society, going into the future, depends on the unrestricted environment of researchers to continue to ask important questions of the day, the HONEST act will impede these efforts.
There are more concerns with each of the major pieces of this legislation.
1) Reproducibility is often entirely unethical. For example, we know what happened after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed at the end of WWII. Similarly, we’ve seen the effects that lead poisoning can have by watching the devastation unfold for children of Flint, Michigan. Clearly both were case studies, from a single occurrence we can’t know exactly what confounding factors were present. For conclusive evidence about causes and safe dosage, more controlled studies are necessary (likely on animals, or also having confounding factors), but the data from these big events are important for understanding large-scale impacts on people. However, the obvious public health impacts were severe enough that it will never be ethical to reproduce such environmental disasters.
2) Because experiments on people are often ethically impossible, the most compelling evidence regarding health effects on people account for potentially confounding factors, such as socioeconomic status, geographic location, other exposure and health issues, etc. These data often are most available through clinical studies, so that the people’s health data can be accounted for. Privacy laws protect those data from being released publicly, which means that we would be excluding the strongest scientific evidence that accounts for the most other confounding factors and most strongly provides evidence of harm to people.
These two factors together substantially limit the quality of the data that can be used to make decisions. Furthermore, they are well beyond what is required for data used to make other public health decisions, for example, about medical treatments or the safety of new products. Without non-reproducible and non-public data, it would be very difficult to build sound evidence about the safety or harm of any potential pollutant; we would be excluding some of the most compelling evidence.
There is another bill that just made it through the house, affects EPA, and seems to be doublespeak-named. It is HR953.
It seems like most of the coverage is from pretty liberal outlets, and I’m curious about a more thorough analysis of this bill. I’m interested in thoughts about whether there are arguments that it could be useful. Here’s the Think Progress report: https://thinkprogress.org/house-votes-against-protection-against-pesticides-9002a7da131d
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