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University President Drew G. Faust wrote to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt Monday to condemn a rule he proposed in April that would mandate publication of data used to craft scientific studies which help shape public policy.
The rule, dubbed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” proposes that the EPA make all data used to support scientific studies that inform its regulations available to the public. In remarks he gave in April, Pruitt said the rule would usher in the end of “the era of secret science at EPA.”
Faust, however, wrote in her letter that the rule is “fundamentally flawed.” She wrote that this kind of mandatory disclosure would specifically inhibit medical research, which she noted relies heavily on medical records that must remain confidential.
“The proposed rule, with its prohibition against EPA reliance on any study where personally identifiable data cannot be made public, effectively disqualifies the best available science from use in the regulatory process,” Faust wrote.
Faust, who will step down from her post as Harvard’s president in less than a month, has spoken out against a number of Trump administration policies in the final year of her presidency, including his attempt to roll back protections for DACA recipients—undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. by their parents as children. Faust’s successor, Lawrence S. Bacow, will likely pick up where she left off when he assumes his new role July 1.
In her letter to Pruitt, Faust pointed to Harvard’s 1993 “Six Cities” study, which demonstrated a strong correlation between air pollution and life expectancy and influenced subsequent air quality regulations. The study has drawn the epithet “secret science,” Faust wrote, from skeptics who suggest that—because the data that backs the study is not available to the public—the research cannot be trusted.
Faust argued against this idea, writing that the study’s findings have been independently verified. She also wrote that the Six Cities study, which relied in part on participant’s private health data, offers a perfect example of why the notion of total data disclosure is misguided.
“That commitment to confidentiality is necessary for contractual and legal reasons, to be sure, but also to assure potential research volunteers that Harvard will always protect their private health information,” Faust wrote. “If not, individuals may be dissuaded from participating in new studies, and the quality of future science would suffer.”
Faust’s letter comes shortly after the EPA recently extended the comment period on Pruitt’s suggested regulation to mid-August. It also comes on the heels of a separate letter the editors of several prestigious scientific journals—including Science and Nature—recently sent to Pruitt critiquing the proposal.
Faust wrote in her letter that science is meant to “improve ourselves, our lives, and our world” and cited the new rule as a detriment to that goal.
“I urge you to reject this proposed policy change and the long-term damage it will do to our health, our communities, and our nation,” she wrote to Pruitt.
—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.
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