Recently, Project Veritas released a series of undercover videos that reveal how New York Times journalists are more interested in smearing the Trump administration than in reporting objective news. But you don’t need to go undercover to see examples of such unfair and biased New York Times reporting. A recent example is Eric Lipton’s article related to Nancy Beck, whom Trump selected to head up the chemical office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to Lipton’s article, Beck’s appointment is a threat to public health and safety because she worked for the chemical industry’s trade association, the American Chemistry Council. The headline subtitle says it all:
A scientist who worked for the chemical industry now shapes policy on hazardous chemicals. Within the E.P.A., there is fear that public health is at risk.
The entire article hinges on an anti-business narrative that suggests anyone who has worked for the chemical industry is willing to push policies that poison people so industry executives can get rich. It’s ridiculous. Still, Lipton casts her as part of a “camp” of people who are “firmly backed by the chemical industry,” suggesting that her viewpoints are driven by industry support. There’s no reason to believe that’s the case simply because she worked a few years at the American Chemistry Council.
Lipton never bothers to consider the possibility that people just might choose to work in businesses—including inside the chemical industry—because they believe the products firms produce improve human life. And it’s the chemical “industry” that we can thank for such things as sanitary water supplies, crop protection products that expand the food supply, and chemicals used to make life-saving medicines.
Fortunately, President Trump seems to understand that being successful in business is a good qualification. It is business—not government bureaucracy—that creates jobs, produces valuable consumer products, and generates the economic growth we all enjoy.
I am acquainted with Beck, since we both work on chemical policy issues. She has always come across to me as smart, hardworking, and someone who cares about promoting sound science. She certainly is highly qualified for her post at EPA.
According to her Linked-In profile, Beck has a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Environmental Health from the University of Washington. Most of her career she has worked in government posts: as a Toxicologist for the Washington State Department of Health, at the EPA as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, and an analyst in the Office of Management and Budget for nine years, a timeframe that spanned both George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
Lipton is right about one thing: Beck is making efforts to reevaluate and reform the way we regulate chemicals, but that’s a good thing. Chemical policy is too often driven by junk science and alarmism, which is why a shift toward a more measured, science-based approach is positive. Yet Lipton suggests that Beck’s efforts to prioritize risks under the newly revised Toxic Substances Control Act could undermine public health. He cites an internal EPA memo written by an Obama administration holdover (originally appointed by George W. Bush in 2002) that alleges the changes could lead the EPA to underestimate human exposure to a chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Yet historically, the EPA has vastly overestimated exposure; Beck’s efforts would likely make exposure scenarios more reasonable. Because EPA risk estimates apply numerous safety factors, actual exposure will likely remain multitudes lower than EPA estimates. In any case, the risks associated with PFOA do not warrant the alarmism that Lipton provides. He exclaims:
The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.
The key here is Lipton’s use of the phrase “linked to,” which basically means there’s no solid evidence of a risk, but some studies may have found some statistical association—which does not prove causation. Such associations happen by chance; unless there is a compelling body of research showing consistent findings, they are not useful for drawing conclusions.
PFOA’s link to cancer is largely based on rodent studies that involve injecting highly concentrated levels of substances into rodents’ stomachs. Under this poisonous, massive exposure scenario, the rodents form tumors. Keep in mind that rodents in general are highly prone to tumor formation, and the rodents selected for such tests are often bred to be even more tumor-prone. So all these tests show is that massive exposures can cause tumors in highly sensitive rodents. But a lot of things—including chemicals that naturally form in carrots, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, coffee, you name it—produce tumors in rodents in such tests. Such tests are not particularly helpful in determining risks to humans exposed to trace amounts of these chemicals.
There isn’t much of any evidence to show that human exposures in the environment pose any significant risk. A 2005 American Council on Science and Health study on the topic concluded:
Research has shown that very high doses of PFOA can cause harm in animals, but the amount of PFOA to which the general population is exposed is hundreds to thousands of times lower, and biological differences may make concerns about some of the observed effects irrelevant to humans. Additionally, studies of workers (who are exposed to much higher doses of PFOA than the general population) have not shown the same effects in humans that occur in animals.
To even suggest that Beck’s effort to set policies to prioritize chemical risk might place anyone at risk from PFOA is ridiculous. But it does help Lipton peddle his absurd narrative.
Lipton also whines about the Trump administration decision to reject an activist petition to ban a pesticide known as chlorpyrifos. As I’ve detailed before, that was not only good policy, it was good science. The EPA proposed using junk science to ban the chemical before completing its scientific assessment and its Science Advisory Panel criticized the agency’s approach. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did the right thing by allowing the scientific review to continue rather than cave to activist pressures.
Lipton then rambles on about a host of “environmental catastrophes”—including those caused by government—from decades gone by as if those situations are somehow relevant to Beck’s appointment. They are not. Beck oversees programs that largely address trace exposures to various chemicals that pose risks that are too low to even measure if they exist at all. It’s reasonable to examine whether regulations undermine access to valuable products and whether we can find a smarter, science-based way of managing them.
Lipton’s story notes that Beck refused to comment when the Times contacted her for this piece, but who could blame her? Lipton notes:
“No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece,” Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said in an email. “The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”
Bowman is right. Lipton did include some positive comments others communicated to him about Beck, but you must wade past his alarmist hyperbole in the first two-thirds of the article to find them. These comments underscore commendable attributes about Beck: her high qualifications, her independent and critical approach to science, and her refusal to be swayed by intimidation and politics.