'Secret Science' Rule Delayed Until Next Year

David Randall

Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on September 19 that the proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” would not be finalized before 2020. Different media organizations interpreted the announcement in opposite ways. “EPA signals retreat from controversial ‘secret science’ rule,” cried one. “EPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by ‘early next year’” said another. So is this news a defeat for open science or not?

It’s certainly a delay—but not necessarily a fatal one. The immediate issue is whether the EPA’s Science Advisory Board will have enough time to consider how to implement the new rule properly. The SAB has been skeptical of the new rule, so giving the SAB more time may mean giving it the opportunity to block implementation of the rule entirely. On the other hand, Wheeler may accurately judge that the rule is more likely to go through once the SAB has had its say. Or perhaps Wheeler is delaying matters to see how the political situation develops, and he hasn’t yet decided whether it would be more prudent to finalize the rule or let it disappear into bureaucratic limbo.

The NAS cannot judge the intricacies of proper political tactics. We support the proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” and we would like it to be finalized as soon as possible. We urge everyone who favors open science to contact the Administrator’s office and the Science Advisory Board, with the best arguments and data in favor of the rule. If you have suggestions for how to make the rule more effective, all the better. Every reasoned argument in favor of the reform, and every constructive piece of advice to improve it, makes it more likely that the rule will be finalized.

The end goal of reproducibility reform is transformation throughout the Federal government. All government agencies should tighten their reproducibility requirements, and redefine “best available science” to mean “reproducible science.” Finalizing the rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” isn’t just valuable for its own sake, but also because it will serve as a model for parallel reforms in all its sister agencies.

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