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

Brian Gumm

Aug. 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.

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