Atrazine: Sound Science Is In The Eye of The Beholder

By Gary Truitt

The old saying states, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That is certainly the case with modern art, an art form in which I have trouble seeing beauty. Music is similar; I can enjoy the complexities of a Bach fugue but have difficulty appreciating rap music. Literature is similarly subjective depending on your interpretation of the story and appreciation of the style. Science, however, is supposed to be different. Scientific facts are supposed to be indisputable. Theories based on those facts are supposed to be verifiable and reproducible. Yet, in today’s regulatory world, scientific facts are made up to fit a predetermined conclusion, and theories are open to individual interpretation. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Environmental Protection Agency.

During my recent trip to the nation’s capitol, I met with dozens of farm groups who told me – with considerable passion – that the EPA was out to get agriculture. They cited a litany of issues on which the EPA was formulating onerous regulations, all without any proof. Yet, when I finally met with top EPA officials, they told me – with firm assurance – that the agency only used sound science in making their decisions. Being the sharp analytical journalist that I am, I soon figured out that somebody was lying to me. I mean they both couldn’t be right, could they?

As strange as it sounds, they both can be right. The way science and scientific fact are used in Washington is far different from the way we learned it back in school. In Washington, they use what I will call “the a la carte” method when it comes to science. Government regulators, activist groups, and farm organizations all use different sets of data to defend their position.

Take, for example, the battle over greenhouse gases. Last December, the EPA ruled that greenhouse gases were endangering human health. This was the first legal step toward government regulation of everything that emits carbon dioxide. By law, the EPA was then supposed to conduct an exhaustive scientific review to determine if indeed greenhouse gases were a danger. What they did was turn the review over to a scientific organization that already had a firm position on the question. All of the research they will present to EPA will support what EPA wants to hear.

Even when the science is fair and balanced, the outcome may not reflect the conclusions reached by the researchers. Take, for example, the question of Atrazine. The EPA spent twelve years and collected over 6000 studies in their files that showed the popular corn herbicide is safe. As recently as 2006, the EPA approved re-registration of Atrazine. Yet, with a new set of political appointees now in power, a new review has started all over again. Scientifically, they should get the same results, but don’t count on it.

The international debate on climate change is, at its core, a debate over sound science. For every study that says man is changing the climate, there are an equal number of studies that indicate the change is caused by natural forces. Yet, governments are moving ahead with laws to regulate climate change even though the science has yet to answer the question: “Is man causing climate change?”

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