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Valid science must prevail on hydrofracking decision

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been quoted saying, "Let the science dictate the conclusion" regarding whether New York should lift the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing or ban the practice altogether. This makes sense. Unfortunately, validated, unbiased science is being obstructed on this very question.

As a student of science and a medical doctor, I am very concerned that the governor has not asked for an independent, comprehensive health impacts assessment of hydraulic fracturing in the state.

Our own Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and nearly all public health experts agree that the most valid way to answer the question, "Will an environmental impact harm a population?"

is through a transparent health impacts assessment. I co-signed a letter with other scientists and health care professionals asking the governor to do just that in regard to fracking here in New York.

Yet, the governor refuses to allow this important form of scientific inquiry to inform the public's decision. Instead he simply is asking the health commissioner to perform an expedient, closed-door "review" and then have three experts look it over. This method of inquiry has never been validated by the relevant scientific community to answer this type of question.

Similarly, I was also one of 83 faculty members and staff at the University at Buffalo who co-signed a letter asking for transparency around the now-closed Shale Resources and Society Institute at UB. We were concerned that the institute had released a paper that was falsely labeled as peer-reviewed, and that the authors had not disclosed their financial conflicts of interest.

President Satish K. Tripathi, admirably, has heard the concerns of the university community and now appears willing to participate in a dialogue with the faculty, students and public at large on academic integrity. The governor should follow Tripathi's lead.

Using scientifically valid methods of research, being transparent and ensuring that scientists are free of financial conflicts of interest may seem like an abstract and academic topic. Yet, as the UB case shows, without clean science, not only is the health of our air, water and people at risk, but the very fabric our democracy is at stake. If the public can't trust the science produced by our public universities and our state governmental bodies such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, what can the public trust?

Cuomo must keep New York's science clean. Do not lift the moratorium before we complete an independent, comprehensive health impacts assessment of hydraulic fracturing in New York.

Michael R. O'Brien, M.D., is a resident physician in internal medicine and pediatrics and a member of the University at Buffalo Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research.