Everyone Assume His or Her Rightful Place

[Update [2010-05-10]: I note that James Taranto made almost exactly the same points as this post, two days before I posted this. So, dear reader, you can click over if you'd like, read Taranto, and consider this post a "me too".]

Remember when President Obama pledged to "restore science to its rightful place"?

As it turns out, in Obamaland, science's "rightful place" is scaremongering, providing justification for ever-increasing state regulation. Last week the President's Cancer Panel fell into line:

An expert panel that advises the president on cancer said Thursday that Americans are facing "grievous harm" from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.
Just in case the call for state action wasn't clear, the report made it explicit:
A cover letter urges President Obama “most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

The report came under withering criticism, not from industry shills, but from the American Cancer Society (which, apparently, doesn't know its "rightful place"). It quotes ABC reporter Emily Walker:

The study of environmental factors and their effect on cancer has been giving short shrift compared to studying lifestyle factors and genetic and molecular causes of cancer, the authors claimed.

But paging through the lengthy report, it was difficult to find solid science to back that strong statement.

And also Michael J. Thun, actual scientist:
Unfortunately, the perspective of the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer, and by its dismissal of cancer prevention efforts aimed at the major known causes of cancer (tobacco, obesity, alcohol, infections, hormones, sunlight) as “focussed narrowly.”

The report is most provocative when it restates hypotheses as if they were established facts. For example, its conclusion that “the true burden of environmentally (i.e. pollution) induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” does not represent scientific consensus. Rather, it reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30 years.

For mild-mannered scientists, comments like these are pretty damning.

The controversy even made the New York Times, a remarkably even-handed article, which nonetheless quoted one panel member who's more than willing to demonstrate his faith-based approach:

[Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr. of Howard University] acknowledged that it was impossible to specify just how many cancers were environmentally caused, because not enough research had been done, but he said he was confident that when the research was done, it would confirm the panel’s assertion that the problem had been grossly underestimated.
Don't want to overstate things. Both Dr. Leffall and the other member of the panel were appointed by Dubya. And the report itself has a number of good, and not particularly controversial, recommendations. But it's not good science.

At Junk Science, Steven Milloy is even more skeptical about the politics than I:

Is this purely enviro-whacko gibberish or is there a more sinister factor at play?

The timeline is certainly troubling: Obamacare rammed through; Obamacare must cut costs; medical imaging costs much $s; scare people about medical imaging; clone Big Tobacco profit theft and claim Big Chemical and other industry "causes" expensive to treat cancers; misappropriate business profits to prop up socialized medicine...

[Milloy's "medical imaging" comment is drawn by the panel's scarifying about the radiation exposure involved.]

Also see Rich Trzupek at Big Journalism.

The Big Nanny State needs "science" on her side. As we saw in Climategate, a lot of scientists are willing to volunteer in that effort.


Last Modified 2011-02-04 1:38 PM EST