If Only All Elected Politician's Applied This Kind of Rationality to Decision Making

(posted 12/8/2016) - I read this editorial by Texas Congressman (District 30) Eddie Johnson and thought that if more congressional committee hearings applied this standard we'd all benefit from better government.

I've copied the opinion piece in its entirety here below:

Original Link is Here .

Last week the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee tweeted a link to a widely debunked Breitbart article questioning warming due to climate change. In response, I tweeted, "I get my climate info from trusted scientists."

What do I think my fellow committee members should be reading? First, I hope that congresspeople will read widely and diversely, so that we are exposed to a broad range of insights and perspectives on the issues before Congress. A well-informed Congress will be a more thoughtful Congress, and that can only benefit us as we carry out our work of forging policies that affect all citizens.

Second, as ranking member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I strongly believe that it is vital for my colleagues to seek out the most respected and credible sources of scientific information to help us grapple with both the opportunities and the challenges created by science and technology. In that regard, we can ill-afford to allow ourselves to be distracted by sensationalistic headlines and ideologically driven reportage.

And I don't only mean from sources such as climate-change-denying right-wing blogs, although they have been some of the most egregious offenders of late. Even mainstream science journalism has had to confront instances in which reporting has made it sound as though important scientifically unresolved questions have been resolved by a single research study, even though the basis of that reportage may be little more than a not-peer-reviewed press release.

So what are members of Congress to do? With few exceptions, lawmakers do not have scientific backgrounds or expertise that would permit them to get their information directly from peer-reviewed technical journals. So we need to rely on reputable institutions that can provide us with clear, unbiased analyses and summaries of the current state of scientific understanding relevant to the policies we consider. Organizations like the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and other equivalent bodies are examples of such trusted institutions. Why? Because they base their conclusions on peer-reviewed science rather than opinion or partisan assertions.

Is peer review a perfect system for ensuring the fidelity of the conclusions reached by scientists? No, because any system involving humans can only aspire to perfection, not guarantee it. However, for more than 200 years, peer review has been widely viewed as the most effective process for identifying and disseminating reliable scientific results, while weeding out any biases or errors introduced in a single experiment or a single laboratory. In this context, the term "peer" is not simply a fellow citizen we might encounter on a courtroom jury. A peer is also not a casual science enthusiast. A peer is, very specifically, another trained, experienced, respected scientist with expertise relevant to the results and analysis under review. Any paper being considered for publication is subject to review by at least three people. Peer review is a strong system. It is in fact an essential part of the progress of science.

Through hearings and meetings, elected officials can hear directly from the scientists and engineers whose research has passed the test of peer review. Reading their testimony and asking them questions is one of the ways that representatives can take advantage of the most up-to-date scientific research available. However, this model only works if those hearings are not packed with witnesses who are lobbyists or have a vested financial interest in the outcome. Unfortunately, there have been too many examples in recent years of hearings in which peer-reviewed science was drowned out by the assertions of non-scientists with financial or ideological agendas. This has to stop.

Members also can benefit from the reports and analyses done by federal science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NASA, the Department of Energy, and others conducting and funding ground-breaking research. Using climate change as an example, the work being done at NASA, NOAA, and other agencies is providing the crucial data that our nation will need to move forward on this critical issue.

I regularly implore my colleagues to listen to the scientists, to recognize the value of research, and resist efforts to defund and destroy the very scientific community that will give us answers to the science-related questions we must address. We in Congress, and in any presidential administration, have to acknowledge that we are not the experts, and that allowing partisan politics and fake or misleading news to skew our scientific understanding is short-sighted, and, by definition, ignorant. The American people deserve more from their elected officials.