Some environmentalists are already squawking about a new scientific advisory board created by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The fear is that the 16-member panel is tilted in favor of the business community. "The only science you'll get here is political science," said Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
Nice quip. But it's unfair.
At the very least, the criticism is premature. Worse, it does a disservice to the academic scientists, doctors and, yes, industry experts who have agreed to serve on the volunteer board. And it undermines the goal of the panel, which is to review the available data to ensure that environmental policy is based on sound science rather than sound bites.
Screaming is in these days. Science is out.
(Although the screamers invariably spout their own versions of "scientific fact" - the false science of the anti-vaccine movement comes immediately to mind.)
That's why the DEP was wise to create this board and why it can play a valuable role. As chairwoman Judith Weis, a biology professor at Rutgers University, points out, nonscientists spouting off about science have a louder voice these days than true scientists.
And there is every indication that the DEP, which created the board more than a year ago and solicited a broad range of nominations, has created a panel that will focus, as it should, on the scientific data that prompt environmental policies.
Our only beef is that the board hasn't met yet. Get to work.
John Gannon, a microbiologist at DuPont and one of the board members who concerns the critics, points out that the panel has a broad membership and strict guidelines on conflicts of interest. He, for example, would abstain from decisions that affect his employer.
There's no denying that the state's business community, which is always at odds with the DEP, hopes the board tilts things its way. "The DEP has had the ability to cherry-pick the scientific data and use the most conservative standards as they see fit," said David Brogan of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. He's hoping the science advisory board leads to a "fair and balanced approach to rule making."
No doubt, he and the Sierra Club differ on what "fair and balanced" would mean.
But the inclusion of some business and industry representatives on this board makes it more effective, not less. A scientific advisory board made up solely of members of the environmental community would speak with little authority.
Who knows? Maybe this board's broad membership will mean that it can't agree on anything. But more science and less screaming is certainly a noble goal.