29 September 2011

Selective Importance of Science Integrity Guidelines

The EPA Inspector General has found that the agency failed to comply with the Administration's requirements for peer review in the preparation of its endangerment finding with respect to carbon dioxide (report can be found here in PDF).

The IG report has no direct bearing on climate policy either in EPA or beyond. What has been interesting has been to see various statements by observers about the significance of the IG report.  I'd speculate that these observers would have had different reactions had this report been requested by Henry Waxman in 2006 about the last administration's EPA.

For instance, Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist, finds the worry about process a distraction:
This is a battle of lawyer versus lawyer. The issues here are not scientific. If we start taking scientific advice from lawyers, we are in deep trouble.
 Kevin Trenberth, another climate scientist, thinks that the concern about process is all political:
"This has nothing to do with the science that justifies the endangerment finding and everything to do with politics," Trenberth said, adding that the IG's criticisms focused only on process and not the quality of science EPA is using. "There is nothing here that undermines the EPA's way forward."
Francisca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists explains that the breakdown in process is not a big deal:
The process matters, but the science matters more and in this endangerment finding, the science is accurate.
Of course, during the Bush Administration concern about processes to ensure scientific integrity were all the rage. At that time it was generally understood that process matters, not simply because it helps to improve the quality of scientific assessments, but also because it helps to establish their legitimacy in the political process.  One sneers at process at some risk.

Of course, had the EPA endangerment finding gone through a more rigorous peer review, misleading and sloppy arguments might have been identified and corrected -- such as found in this example.