The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is on the verge of introducing a new policy that would severely restrict the research used to write new environmental regulations.
Under the new policy, which has been sold by administrator Scott Pruitt as an attempt to improve scientific transparency, the EPA would be unable to use research unless scientists and industry groups could examine the raw data.
"Mr. Pruitt believes that Americans deserve transparency," said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.
On the surface, this may seem like a good way to improve academic rigor, but dig a little deeper, and scientists say the proposed policy is nothing more than an insidious way to undermine the EPA's mission.
Why, you ask? For starters, the EPA's environmental regulations for clean air and water draw on private personal health data from thousands of Americans - private as in, not able to be examined by just anyone.
"Administrator Pruitt claims to be worried about "secret science" at the EPA, but in reality, he's squashing the science that protects Americans from air, water, and land pollution," Gretchen Goldman from the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in Scientific American.
Pruitt's newest idea for the agency fundamentally misrepresents how science works. After all, scientific studies already undergo intense scrutiny and peer-review from experts in the field before they are published in a scientific journal.
"Nowhere in this process do decision makers need to see raw data that went into studies in order to trust scientific evidence," Goldman explained in her recent article.
"They do not need to. They can look at the methods, design, and results in order to assess the quality of the science."
By severely limiting the research that the EPA can draw on, the evidence for new environmental regulations will be thin at best. As such, scientists are worried that without taking into account all peer-reviewed studies, the EPA's mission to protect public health and the environment will be paralyzed.
David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University who used to work under President Obama, went so far as to call the plan "weaponized transparency."
But Pruitt and other conservatives don't see it that way. They inherently distrust peer review, not to mention the validity of the research underlying many Obama-era regulations.
"Peer reviews, and reviews in general, can tell you what you want them to tell you, depending on who is in charge of the department," said Colin Woodall, an industry lobbyist and senior vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Even if the new proposal wasn't an attempt to stifle silence, it would cost the agency a ton of money. If academics have to turn over their raw data for public review, the agency would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to censor private information, according to a federal estimate.
Far from being an issue of scientific rigor, science advocates like McCarthy and Gallagher see the proposed policy as just another way for Pruitt to disrupt the EPA.