Nobody likes Congress. And that’s not much of an exaggeration—only 16% of Americans hold a favorable view of the United States Congress—while 46% approve of the President. The high-jinx that played out last week certainly does not bolster confidence in the institution nor are shutdowns a cost-effective way to run government. The scholar in me is just as concerned about the assault on standards of knowledge that occurs off camera though.
A piece of legislation that passed the House last November in the previous Congressional session offers a telling example. Congressman Christopher Stewart (R-UT) introduced H.R. 1422, The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, and it passed the Republican House 229-191 on almost a straight party-line vote. At root, the Act altered the composition of the Scientific Advisory Board (SBA) to the Environmental Protection Agency to include more industry representatives and barred SBA scholars from providing insight to the EPA on the very matters of their expertise -- the subjects on which they conduct systematic, empirical research. So in this bill, House Republicans called into question the very standards of knowledge that brought us the Enlightenment. Congressman Stewart’s legislation sought a “balance” of researchers and industry backed representatives who have an undeniable financial investment in the findings. It barred scientists, but not these industry representatives, from weighing in on the very subjects on which they have done painstaking research. This is akin to asking Pedro Martinez for advice about your swim team of Bill Gates’ take on k-pop.