CPR's Shapiro Takes on the Politicization of Science in North Carolina

by Brian Gumm

August 18, 2016

In a new op-ed published in the Raleigh News & Observer, Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar and Board Member Sidney Shapiro examines two recent examples of politics getting in the way of protecting people and the environment in North Carolina. As he explains, the politicization of science by state officials has serious ramifications for the ability of agencies and scientists to safeguard residents from toxic chemicals, rising sea levels, and more. 

The following is an excerpt from the op-ed:

Recently, two prominent scientific experts resigned from the North Carolina government to protest the state's disregard for scientific input in state policy.

Dr. Megan Davies, a state epidemiologist, resigned to protest state environmental officials' rejection of stringent testing standards to determine the safety of private drinking water wells near coal ash ponds that have leaked dangerous chemicals into the water supply. Earlier, Dr. Stan Riggs, a coastal and marine geologist who helped found a science panel to advise the state on coastal issues, resigned after regulators pressured the panel to use a shorter time horizon to predict how much sea levels would rise on the coast.

State officials deny any wrongdoing, but they rejected the advice of their own scientific advisers on how to proceed, chose instead to pursue less protective policies and issued a news release criticizing a state scientist who favored a more protective policy as "unprofessional."

We have seen this before. In the George W. Bush administration, there were persistent and numerous efforts to disregard scientific input and discredit scientists who made recommendations that were inconsistent with the administration's policy preferences. The disregard for scientific input suggests that political considerations have trumped what science tells us we need to do to effectively protect people from pollution, toxic chemicals, climate change and other dangers. 

* * * 

An important role of science is to speak truth to power, but when scientific advice is politically inconvenient, state and national officials are tempted to disregard science to pursue their policy preferences. Whatever short-term gains this science denial may produce, officials risk putting people and the environment in greater jeopardy. Hopefully that is not the result here, but it appears North Carolinians may not be so lucky. 

Read the full op-ed on the News & Observer website.

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Brian Gumm

Brian Gumm is the Communications Director at the Center for Progressive Reform. Prior to joining CPR in March 2016, he spent nearly a decade in several roles at the Center for Effective Government, including communications director and senior writer.

Recommended Resources:
Good Government
Transparency and Integrity Should Be Cornerstones

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015