Money speech is better than peer-reviewed scientific speech

So we all missed this one.  Science fiction writers have for decades been imagining different ways in which a technological society can turn on science.  Standard tropes are that fundamentalist religion takes over the state, and bans science; another standard trope is that some catastrophe happens, and people blame science and scientists (Interstellar had a few lines devoted to this trope, to cite a very contemporary example).

This morning, I read the text of the bill that passed the House last week:  HR1442.  This bill would determine who can advise the E.P.A.  It includes (I cut for readibility some clauses):

(2) Each member of the Board shall be qualified by education, training, and experience to evaluate scientific and technical information on matters referred to the Board under this section. The Administrator shall ensure that–

“(C) persons with substantial and relevant expertise are not excluded from the Board due to affiliation with or representation of entities that may have a potential interest in the Board’s advisory activities, so long as that interest is fully disclosed to the Administrator and the public and appointment to the Board complies with section 208 of title 18, United States Code;

“(E) Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work;

So (C) above would open the advisory board to include corporate representatives; these people are specifically redefined as acceptable as long as we know that they work for industry.

But (E) above means that a scientist whose has published on global warming, for example, cannot be part of the board if they are discussing global warming, because of course then her work would be evaluated as part of the discussion of global warming.

In other words, working for a corporation that would be directly affected by the regulation does not cause a conflict of interest, but the scientific method and peer review do cause a conflict of interest.

No dystopian fancy ever encompassed a world in which “I am paid to say P” is treated as no serious conflict of interest with respect to P, but the person who publishes peer-reviewed scientific papers on P has a conflict of interest because… I just don’t know why because.

We are laggards, we science fiction writers. The world is leaving us behind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *