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The New York Times' Several Glaring Inaccuracies "That's Fit To Print"

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WASHINGTON — Late yesterday, the New York Times published a story EPA to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules, that has numerous errors and is based on leaked preliminary, draft documents that are not accurate and do not include the final text submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for interagency review.

On Friday, Nov. 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered to OMB a draft supplemental federal register notice (FRN) to clarify, modify and supplement certain provisions included in the 2018 proposed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule. The 2018 proposed rule solicited comment on all aspects of the proposed rule. This supplemental FRN solicits comment only on the changes and additions to the proposed regulatory text discussed in this supplemental notice. The agency still intends to issue a final rule in 2020. This final rule will take into account the comments received in response to both the 2018 proposed rule and this supplemental FRN as well as those submitted by the Science Advisory Board.

EPA recognizes that when it develops significant regulations using public resources, including regulations for which the public is likely to bear the cost of compliance, EPA should ensure that the data and models underlying scientific studies that are pivotal to the regulatory action are available for review and reanalysis. The “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rulemaking is designed to increase transparency in the preparation, identification and use of science in rulemaking. When final, this action will ensure that the regulatory science underlying EPA’s actions are made available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.

EPA has not finalized this proposal but responds to the claims alleged as they are not an accurate account of where the proposal stands. How the New York Times got it wrong:

The reporter incorrectly reports that “unlike a proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place.” This is completely false. The proposal and supplemental will not apply to any regulations already in place.

The reporter again says the proposal would apply retroactively to existing regulations, which is completely false. The supplemental (and the original proposal) allow studies like the Harvard Six City study to be used. The agency has not rejected or otherwise eliminated that option in anyway in its original proposal or supplemental. In fact, the supplemental makes it even clearer that such studies must be properly considered and takes comment from the public on this issue.

Additionally, they report that this “would require scientists to disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records.” This is not true. In the originally proposed regulation and in the leaked supplemental, EPA maintains protecting confidential personal information just as other federal health agencies regularly do. The reporter clearly does not understand the terms in the context of science transparency.

The story continues with more false information. The reporter writes: “The measure would make it more difficult to inact new clean air and water rules…” This is just wrong. The reality is that the supplemental addresses this concern and clarifies points that were not entirely made clear in the original proposal. If the reporter had truly read the outdated leaked draft she would have read a discussion of how scientists across the country have already approved methods to gain access to a study’s underlying data that contains personal information without revealing the identity of the individuals.

The article continues with more misleading and false information. The reporter writes: “The change is part of a broader administration effort to weaken the scientific underpinnings of policymaking.” Science transparency does not weaken science, quite the contrary. By requiring transparency, scientists will be required to publish hypothesis and experimental data for other scientists to review and discuss, requiring the science to withstand skepticism and peer review.

In fact, EPA currently has transparency rules in place for its intramural research and extramural grants. Non-government funded research should also be subject to transparency requirements. When finalized, the science transparency rule will ensure that all important studies underlying significant regulatory actions at the EPA, regardless of their source, are subject to a transparent review by qualified scientists.

The article continues with inaccurate information. The reporter writes: “The new version does not appear to have taken any of the opposition into consideration.” This is just bad reporting. It is completely misleading, and lacks the understanding of the rule making process. A supplemental to a proposed rule is not a ‘new’ rule and is not intended to address comments to a proposal. The public will have the ability to comment on the supplemental just as they did for the proposal. The final rule will address all comments.

Additionally, the reporter incorrectly states that: “The politically appointed agency administrator would have wide-ranging discretion over which studies to accept or reject.” This is completely false. The rule requires transparency but gives the EPA Administrator the discretion to use studies when information is not available. However, this should be the exception instead of the way of EPA doing business.

The reporter again inaccurately reports on the meaning of “raw data.” The supplemental seeks public comment on any changes to the scope. Once again, the reporter confuses the situation by using “raw data,” which is clarified in the supplemental.

In the first paragraph, they report that “the new rule would…” This is not a new rule. What was submitted to OMB is a supplemental to the 2018 proposed rule. In the next paragraph, they continue to misreport by calling this a “new draft.” Again, this is not a new rule, this is supplemental to the 2018 proposal.

And finally, the reporter writes: “Academics are not typically required to turn over private data when submitting studies for peer review…” The scientific community is increasingly interested in increasing transparency in research. Several academic journals, including the Public Library of Science and the Annals of Internal Medicine already have a publication condition requiring authors to make their data available upon request and many institutions, including Yale and Harvard universities, are making strides in creating publicly accessible repositories of research and clinical data.