- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

One problem facing the Bush administration is the many government scientists appointed during the Clinton administration who continue to maintain strong ties with activist groups and who subtly promote their causes from within the numerous government agencies the public expects to be impartial.
The sad truth is that many of these scientists are just as political as activists and members of Congress, with whom they also maintain close ties and on whom they depend for funding of their pet projects.
The political scientists know how to play the game. They know how the insertion or deletion of a single word in a document can mean millions in additional funding for their own research, regardless of the merits.
And if Congress missed the point it the first time, the political scientists know how to pass the word to activist groups, so they can generate scare stories and demand congressional action and trash those members who dont go along.
Its a circular and depressingly cynical process, which benefits everyone except the taxpaying public, which is never given the straight story but has to foot the ever-increasing bill. A bill for what often amounts to no more than junk science.
A particularly egregious example of this process emerged recently.
An obscure government agency known as the National Toxicology Program issued a report in which it described as "credible" a totally unproven theory that most mainstream scientists consider the height of absurdity.
The theory, for which there is in fact no credible evidence, holds that while a person may not be harmed by exposure to normal amounts of a substance say salt or water exposure to very tiny amounts can be harmful.
The theory flies in the face of all known science. The handful of researchers who have been promoting the theory are dismissed as "a cult" by some leading scientists.
But with generous funding from left-wing foundations and political connections, this cult kept up its campaign, eventually forcing a reluctant Environmental Protection Agency to call on the National Toxicology Program to look into the theory and advise EPA on whether new regulations may be necessary.
The NTP recently rendered its verdict: the "low dose" theory, it claimed, is credible. But it covered its bet by adding, as all such investigations do, that more research is necessary, meaning millions more taxpayer dollars to explore a theory that virtually no one believes in.
It is to be hoped that Christine Todd Whitmans Environmental Protection Agency will be more clearsighted on this issue and refuse to be stampeded into spending the publics money on such a will-o-the-wisp theory, which is not supported by any of the countrys scientific organizations.
Indeed, the low-dose theory was largely created by a single researcher, Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri. Mr. vom Saal worked with a tiny colony of genetically unique mice that he subsequently killed so that neither he nor anyone else could repeat the experiment.
But Mr. vom Saal proved to be an energetic promoter of his theory and has traveled the world offering apocalyptic visions of the risks to mankind especially women and children if public health authorities dont take him seriously. Most of them, wisely, do not.
Extensive research undertaken in this country, Europe and Japan found no evidence to support Mr. vom Saals theory. The consensus is that this is merely the latest example of, yes, junk science.
Now a panel of the National Toxicology Program notably including Clinton-era allies of Mr. vom Saal has succeeded in giving the theory new life and its first sign of official respectability by inserting the magic word "credible" in its report. The panel knew what it was doing.
Whatever qualifiers appeared in the report and there were many, so that they could claim to be serious the one word that Mr. vom Saal and his allies will now trade on is "credible." That should be good for millions of dollars in government and foundation money, and sadly, potentially billions in extra costs to American industry and consumers.
With this report, the NTP lost much of its own credibility. Knowledgeable scientists say its "panel of experts" ignored or downplayed the overwhelming and eminently credible evidence showing no "low dose" effects.
They chose instead to elevate the importance of a very minor and controversial study that no other lab has been able to repeat. Scientists have described the report as one of the sloppiest ever to emerge from a government agency.
Its a sad day for the NTP, a sad day for science and a sad day for the American public. But a great payday for the activists and their pals in government.

Steven Milloy is publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and author of the upcoming book, "Junk Science Judo: self-defense for Health Scares and Scams" (Cato, 2001).

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