Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Flaws Illustrated

Here's some shocking news:

Major input from industry into the EPA's assessment of the toxicological effects of vinyl chloride weakened public health safeguards. The assessment downplayed risks from all cancer sites other than liver, and it reduced by 10-fold cancer potency estimates. The results illustrate flaws in EPA's trend toward increasing collaboration with regulated industries when generating scientific reviews and risk assessments.
These results also illustrate flaws in the notion that the free market is based on the informed choices of rational people.

If you idealize your premises, it's child's play to reach an ideal conclusion, so free-marketeers have no difficulty in equating their dreamy notions with "freedom." But it's obvious that in the real world, their system ensures that honest people will be forever at the mercy of dishonest people, and will thus be anything but free. That's why laws are useful, and regulation is rational. Reason, that crippled god of the libertarians, demands restraint, just as surely as morality does. But power rejects these and any other constraints it finds inconvenient. The moral nihilism of BushCo is a fine example of freedom at its ugly, irrational, vicious worst. There are others.

As for the EPA, it's pretty sad when it misrepresents its results, given the leeway it has to limit the scope of its research. Regulatory agencies start with the reasonable notion that complex situations need to be simplified to the point that they can be studied; having done so, they too often present the simplification as reality. In this case, compelling epidemiological evidence for vinyl chloride's association with non-liver cancers was treated as apocryphal:
Because exposure was not adequately characterized in the epidemiology studies, the EPA cancer potency estimates were based on animal bioassay data.
And yet, despite its obtuse oversimplification of vinyl chloride's hazards - despite a bar that was set ridiculously low in favor of industry - the EPA still felt obliged to edit its final report to appease polluters.

It makes you wonder what we'd learn if we considered our problems honestly, and studied them scientifically.


Anonymous said...

That's the new Bush EPA for ya. Less clean, more green ($$$) for industry. I just love it how they give their legislation such misleading Orwellian names. The "clear skies initiative" will allow polluters to set their own standards. Would you let pirates write anti-theft laws?

Phila said...

The EPA under Bush is a nightmare, no doubt about it. But if you read the article in question, you'll see that the initial research was conducted in the nineties, and the final report is from 2000. In other words, the system that generated this flawed report is the system that Bush is making worse. Sad to say, my post refers to the EPA when the "good guys" were in charge.

Anonymous said...

It makes you wonder what we'd learn if we considered our problems honestly, and studied them scientifically.

It makes you wonder, indeed. The environmental problems won't be studied honestly any time soon. Frankly, it's just getting harder and harder to take in the scope of the dishonesty. It's overwhelming. Environmental science, as it comes out of the EPA is so degraded, that it hardly deserves consideration. Why even do it? How do they find so many dishonorable people to do their dirty work?