Christopher Rowland at the Boston Globe reports that House Republicans, seeking evidence of overreaching environmental regulations, are taking aim at a two-decade-old, taxpayer-funded scientific study by Harvard researchers that linked air pollution to disease.
Even though the landmark study has held up under intense scientific scrutiny since its publication in 1993, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology took the rare step of issuing subpoenas last month demanding access to the study’s raw data about thousands of individual subjects.
The committee also subpoenaed raw data from a 1995 study of American Cancer Society health data on 1.2 million individuals that confirmed the findings of the earlier review, that air pollution is associated with higher rates of emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory ailments, hospitalizations, and mortality.
Both studies — peer-reviewed and published in prestigious medical journals — have long been on the target list of some in the GOP because they have been repeatedly cited by the Environmental Protection Agency when it justifies the need for new regulations on power plant emissions and other air pollutants.
Because, what, air pollution is good for you?
The problem here is not just how stupid and ugly this is – it is the idea that raw data from twenty years ago even exists. I’m not sure how things are where you work. I have never seen a lab, in my various careers as an oceanographer, a climatologist, a computer engineer, or a commercial software developer, where it would be even feasible to reconstruct data from a publication dated 1995 in 2013.
Should this be fixed going forward? Definitely. I am absolutely in favor of reproducibility. Is it worth fixing retroactively? Hell no. I can’t imagine anyone asking for such a thing who actually remembers the computing environment of the early 90s. I don’t suppose any of the workers then imagined such a witch hunt, either.
It’s possible that medical research has had reproducibility standards in place for that long. Even if so there are plenty of ways that this might have failed in the intervening years. In that event, are we supposed to presume that pollution does not cause asthma anymore?