Peer Review the Asbestos Way

Hi. This is a slowly conglomerating monsterpost jumping off of some OMB peer review regulations that are apparently really trendy right now (ref: Chris Mooney, Calpundit). Why? Because they rule out peer review of government research by anyone who wants or has a research grant from the agency to be peer reviewed, narrowing the pool of potential peer reviewers to people who get their money from industry, more or less. And we can all guess what kind of high quality objective science comes out of industry when there’s regulatory capture on the line (yes, kids, tobacco is good for you!).

This is not so much an issue in hydrogeology. There are lots of little consulting firms (like the one I work for) that do business with an assortment of local governments, development companies and medium-sized private land owners, that could easily be called in to peer review the Forest Service or the EPA or whoever. But in that respect, it’s kind of a unique field – local governments don’t pay for cancer research.

The sticky part is as follows:

When selecting reviewers from the pool of qualified external experts, the agency sponsoring the review shall strive to appoint experts who, in addition to possessing the necessary scientific and technical expertise, are independent of the agency, do not possess real or perceived conflicts of interest, and are capable of approaching the subject matter in an open-minded and unbiased manner. Factors relevant to whether an individual satisfies these criteria include whether the individual:

  1. has any financial interests in the matter at issue
  2. has, in recent years, advocated a position on the specific matter at issue
  3. is currently receiving or seeking substantial funding from the agency through a contract or research grant (either directly or indirectly through another entity, such as a university); or
  4. has conducted multiple peer reviews for the same agency in recent years, or has conducted a peer review for the same agency on the same specific matter in recent years.

If it is necessary to select a reviewer who is or appears to be biased in order to obtain a panel with appropriate expertise, the agency shall ensure that another reviewer with a contrary bias is appointed to balance the panel.

So how worrisome is this? Certainly, there are many areas of research in which a person working in good faith to choose an unbiased review panel will be able to do so under these guidelines. And if we do not trust our Current Administration to work in good faith for the benefit of Science and Sundry, we are obviously Traitors. So, leaving aside the Most Improbable Probability of elected representatives of Democracy tampering with scientific expertise for political gain, we’ll move to a comparison of scientific standards in the executive and judicial branches of government.

(more to follow, there is laundry and frivolity to accomplish yet this evening)

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Trackbacks & Pings

  1. Peer Review II on 30 Nov 2007 at 1:07 am

    […] thinkin’ about this problem of government peer review (though the monsterpost hasn’t been pushed beyond Tuesday’s edition, alas) and my intuition just flipflopped. […]

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