Neutral Source opened for business on March 15, 2006. We publish objective and analysis about regulatory science, economics, and information quality. Neutral Source is led by managing editor Richard B. Belzer. Neutral Source takes no position on substantive legislation or regulatory decision making.
WHY SCIENCE AND ECONOMICS?
Regulatory decisions reflect a complex blend of science and other technical matters, economic analysis such as Regulatory Impact Analysis, and an array of policy and political judgments. These latter considerations may be informed by science and economics, but they are inherently controlled by the values of the people who make decisions. In the US governmental system, decision makers are those persons who are either constitutionally empowered to decide or are legally entitled to delegate those powers to others whom they specifically designate. People can agree or disagree with these decisions, but decisions that are grounded in values cannot be described as objectively wrong.
We focus on science because it is susceptible to objective evaluation and hypothesis testing. When we say that 2+ 2 = 4, we are stating an objective fact. When a government agency says that the sun will set at 6:21 pm at a specified geographical location, we expect it to be true within the nearest 30 seconds. When a government agency says that a particular chemical causes cancer, we ought to have the same confidence that the statement is factually accurate. Often, however, this is not the case. That is, science is also susceptible to variability, uncertainty, and outright error.
We focus on economics because it is a branch of science. Like physical and biological science, its predictions are generally testable. In the form of benefit-cost analysis, economics provides a framework for objectively evaluating the pros (benefits) and cons (costs) of regulatory actions. Both must be estimated in a conceptually correct and consistent manner. Many Regulatory Impact Analyses do not meet this standard. Scientific studies and Regulatory Impact Analyses that are not objective mislead regulatory decision makers.
Science and economics are inextricably linked in regulation because scientific information often must be used as input in benefit-cost analysis. When the science used as an input in benefit-cost analysis is not objective, the benefit-cost analysis cannot be objective.
WHY INFORMATION QUALITY?
Information quality is a new field of study and application, largely prompted by the exponential growth in (and reliance on) very large data bases. It is impossible to validate all the data, yet the potential risk of error loom especially large. Separately, Congress enacted legislation in 2000 requiring agencies to adhere to minimum quality standards with respect to the information they disseminate. This includes information that forms the predicate for regulation, such as scientific, statistical, and economic information.
IS NEUTRAL SOURCE TRULY OBJECTIVE?
We strive to be, but we do not discount the possibility that we will make mistakes. When we do, readers are encouraged to tell us so in the comments. Please provide enough information as you can.