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Outdated science hurting EPA's reputation

One of the things we do in the science literacy class that I teach at the community center is browse the news and evaluate the articles for their science. The game goes that every week someone presents something they found in the news, and we discuss it. Last week, as I was setting up to teach my class, the presenting student burst in a little late, apologized, and passed me a printout. As I read a news article from Fox News, I listened to the student explain to the class what the article was all about. (This same story was published in the less politically biased Bay Journal, and they give a better overview of the story and details.)


As the Fox article states, "[Lois] Alt, who owns the small Eight is Enough poultry farm in the town of Old Fields, was hit with the fines after EPA officials claimed high levels of nitrogen in her chickens' waste were fouling waterways." What the EPA officials didn't do before charging Alt with this was take samples and do analysis. They charged her based on models, but not evidence. The EPA was also basing all these models on old, outdated parameters that don't take into consideration genetic modifications and updated farming practices which make things a lot safer. 


My students read the news report, then burst forth with remarks and questions:


  • Why don't they [the EPA] update their studies?

  • Why is this only in Fox News? (Keep in mind, it wasn't, but this was their question.)

  • Why does the EPA refuse to comment?

  • Why doesn't the EPA use real science?

  • What does the EPA have against small farmers?

These were all very good questions, and ones that citizens and taxpayers have the right to know honest answers to. There were many other statements regarding the politicization of science, and I wondered if this is a reflection of things getting politicized or people just getting lazy in the government offices. The presenting student said it best when he said, \"I think the EPA people need basic science lessons."


No matter the answers, this case has the effect of creating distrust among the general population. During this one debate I heard the students lamenting that they couldn't trust the government. The good thing, in my opinion, is that they are not feeling apathy. Many of them are feeling outrage at the lack of competency, lack of up-to-date studies and information they are using to fuel EPA models, and the lack of an apologetic nature when they have wronged someone. I can't blame them. I'm not a farmer, but I am outraged at the ill use of outdated science which has caused financial harm, which in turn has caused innocent people to lose their livelihoods.


In my next post, I'll be writing about my literacy classes experience with biases in the media, and if they changed their minds—or didn't—with regard to this case.

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