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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Robert Lichter

Aired August 8, 2003 - 20:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A new report released by the Democratic lawmaker Henry Waxman accuses the White House of using junk science to boost its political agenda.
One example, lead poisoning in children. The report says when a CDC committee considered expanding the diagnosis of lead poisoning to include children with lower levels of lead in their blood, the administration replaced several qualified scientists on the committee with lead industry consultants. The industry has opposed lowering the blood-lead standard.

I'm joined now by the policy analyst Robert Lichter. He's the president of the Statistical Assessment Service.

Mr. Lichter, welcome to our program. Thanks for joining us.

ROBERT LICHTER, PRESIDENT, STATISTICAL ASSESSMENT SERVICE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you make of this study that Congressman Waxman's committee has released?

LICHTER: Well, first, let me tell you my perspective. I am not now nor have I ever been in the Bush administration. I'm an independent social scientist who tries to evaluate these kinds of things.

And I think in every administration, some of this goes on, and in every administration, the political opposition makes more of it than it actually is true.

In the case of the lead standards, this is a case where you have a current standard, and some people who want to change it. Now, the science is still being worked out. There are articles on both sides. And the complaint is that the real scientists got shunted away and the industry shills have been put on.

But in fact, the people who were put on are very highly skilled scientists. One of them is a chaired professor at Columbia University.

And my studies and other people's studies have found that scientists who have consulted for industry do not differ in their assessment of risks, of health risks, from scientists who have not consulted for industry. So you can't make assumptions based on this kind of -- I would hate to say ad hominem attack, but this kind of critique of what the committee actually is doing in terms of the scientific truth.

BLITZER: There is, though, this notion, though, that if you're being paid by the industry, you're making money out of that industry, you're not necessarily the most scientifically objective when it comes to making recommendations about the industry.

LICHTER: Yes, and I'm saying that empirically, statistically, when you actually test that, it is not true. And it is not true because scientists are scientists. You know, we're not talking about people who work for the Tobacco Institute. We're talking about people who work at universities and do research that is funded by the lead industry.

And sure, whenever you see that kind of funding, it should raise a yellow flag, and you look very carefully at the findings. But when scholars have tried to say, Well, let's test this, do the scientists who work for industry come up with conclusions that favor industry, the answer is no. Which is a good thing, I think, for the system.

BLITZER: The White House is accusing Congressman Waxman, not surprisingly, of engaging in partisan politics. He is a partisan Democrat, obviously. But is that fair accusation, that Henry Waxman and his staff are simply trying to score political points right now?

LICHTER: Well, I think the pot is being fair to the kettle. They both turn out to be less than pure white on this issue. As I say, every administration, when something comes up that they don't like, that has policy significance, they try to get rid of the data.

And every out party tries to take advantage of this kind of thing by pushing and claiming partisan politics.

And I'm not saying this is cynical. I mean, both sides genuinely believe in what they're doing, I think. But you can't take the critical report and say that it is any less partisan than the scientific data put together by the administration.

BLITZER: What...

LICHTER: At least you can't, you know, without going further than that.

BLITZER: Very briefly, one final question. Congressman Sharon Brown, a Democrat of Ohio, wants the General Accounting Office, the watchdog, if you will, of Congress, to take a look at this. Is that a good idea?

LICHTER: I think so, because there you have an independent body that is not tied to one of the parties. So I think that would be good for everyone.

BLITZER: Robert Lichter, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

LICHTER: Thank you.

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