On January 25, Eric Lander began as President Biden’s science advisor, a role that does not require Senate approval. The selection, and Biden’s decision to instantly elevate the role to Cabinet status, comes at a pivotal moment for the future of American science. Lander has long consulted lawyers and judges about forensic science and the role DNA samples play in the criminal justice system. His appointment has sparked hopes of a reinvigorated debate over the use of forensic science in American courtrooms.
The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which was established in the John S. McCain Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, has recommended the establishment of a Bureau of Cyber Statistics. The Commission envisions that the Bureau would be “the governmental statistical agency that collects, processes, analyzes, and disseminates essential statistical data on cybersecurity, cyber incidents, and the cyber ecosystem to the American public, Congress, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized the sunset rule on January 19, 2021, President Trump’s last full day in office. The regulation is meant to motivate HHS to periodically reviews its regulations to reduce their burdens on small businesses. It does so by attaching expiration dates — known as sunset provisions — to most rules under HHS authority. Examples include restrictions on technologies available for use in telemedicine, regulations concerning the practice of medicine across state lines, and rules related to topics as wide ranging as food safety and child care. If not reviewed during a specified time period, regulations could expire.
The Facebook Oversight Board (FOB) released its first batch of decisions last week. One key question facing FOB is what source of “law” the Board should apply. Of course, the FOB is not an actual court, and it is unclear how the FOB should reconcile applying Facebook’s private set of rules and values with paying attention to international human rights law. The recent FOB cases first assessed Facebook’s decisions against the company’s own standards and then separately against international human rights law. But in all of them, the FOB came to the same conclusion under each set of norms, and in no case did the FOB confront the question of what happens if Facebook’s rules conflict with international human rights law. This interesting “jurisprudential” question of the FOB’s ultimate source of authority has been kicked down the road for now.
On Monday, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls, vacated the Trump administration rule limiting which scientific studies the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use in crafting public health protections. Judge Morris’s decision marked a major victory for environmental groups and public health advocates. The rule, which went into effect just two weeks before President Biden’s inauguration, would assign less weight to studies built on medical histories and other confidential data from human subjects where the underlying information was not revealed. That sort of research — including dose-response studies, which evaluate how much a person’s exposure to a substance increases the risk of harm — have been used for decades to justify EPA regulations. Trump officials argued that the new rule would promote transparency into the scientific basis for new regulations. But critics argued the rule was meant to block access to the best available science, weaking the government’s ability to implement environmental and health protections.
On Sunday, Senator Elizabeth Warren called for the SEC to investigate the entire GameStop saga. In a letter to Robinhood, copied to the SEC and FINRA, Warren specifically asks whether the free trading app was in violation of regulations or laws before or during the recent market volatility. Warren said that Robinhood’s trading limits on small investors “raises troubling concerns about its relationship with large financial institutions that execute its trades.”