“What concerns me and what concerns the other editors is that the proposed rule is much more rigid than our policies,” Berg said. “Based on our experience, that could have some very negative impacts in preventing the use of high-quality science.”
“We’re interested in making things as transparent as possible,” he added. “But we understand there are circumstances where this isn’t possible, and we think there’s a lot of scientific values in those papers.”
It’s also possible to craft transparency rules that allow for these exceptional circumstances, Berg said. For instance: While some human-subject studies can’t release their data publicly, researchers can still make their data available confidentially to other academics, who can then check and replicate their findings. Science and Nature’s policies both allow for this possibility. The EPA proposal does not.
On Monday, 69 professional and public-health organizations—including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association—also denounced the proposal.
“We strongly oppose EPA’s efforts to restrict the use of the best available science in its policymaking and encourage EPA to withdraw its proposal,” said a statement from the coalition. “If EPA excludes studies because the data cannot be made public, people may be exposed to real harm.”
The group included representatives of the natural sciences who have historically avoided politics, including the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America. Chris McEntee, the chief executive of the American Geophysical Union, wrote that the proposal was a “a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing policy that would undermine how the agency uses science in decision-making.”
Harvard has also opposed the policy, as has the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard, wrote in a June letter to Pruitt that the proposal “is fundamentally flawed” and that it “would significantly limit the EPA’s ability to consider the best available scientific findings.”
It “risks not just erosion of public trust in the EPA’s important work, but also progress on improving the health and wellbeing of our communities and our nation,” she added.
As I wrote in April, the proposal is believed to target one study in particular: the Harvard “Six Cities” report, which in 1993 found that Americans living in more-air-polluted cities died faster than Americans living in less-polluted cities. The study used confidential medical information, but its data has been shared with other research teams and replicated several times.
Particulate matter, the specific type of air pollution identified by the study, has since been found to cause type 2 diabetes, and has been associated with elevated rates of lung cancer, heart attacks, asthma attacks, emergency-room visits, and hospital admissions. But because the Six Cities study cannot publish its data publicly, some Republican activists and lobbyists have attacked it as “secret science” and argued that particulate matter does not harm human health.