Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Bush administration treats science as a political tool

Why you’re right:
1.  It manipulates science to please industry.  For this administration, corporate needs trump empirical evidence about the environment.  Early drafts of the 2003 comprehensive report on the state of the environment referenced studies on the recently accelerated rate of temperature increase and its human causes, but White House officials demanded that these references be removed and replaced with information about a skeptical study partially financed by the American Petroleum Institute.  Despite an EPA study showing that 8% of women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels that would produce health consequences for offspring, the administration advocates a policy that would slow down the timetable for the reduction of mercury emissions from coal power plants.  The Office of Management and Budget has proposed a rule that would disqualify most scientists who receive any government funding from serving as peer reviewers while allowing those funded by industry.  The rule would allow industry much greater influence in the formation of regulations, and officials from the Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations have registered their objections. (MSNBC, NY Times, Washington Post)
2.  It tampers with science to please social conservatives.  In October 2002, the CDC replaced a fact sheet on the efficacy of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS with one intended to raise doubts about condoms.  When one CDC official questioned the revision, she was told “changes were directed by Bush administration officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.”  In May of this year, the FDA refused to approve the sale of emergency contraception over the counter, despite receiving the opposite recommendation from its own scientific advisory panel, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.  Further, the administration has turned its back on effective comprehensive sexuality education, supported by the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association.  It justifies its use of abstinence-only education using quasi-scientific measures.  (Union of Concerned Scientists, Slate, UCS(2)
3.  It has alienated the scientific community.  Calling the lack of scientific integrity in the Bush administration unprecedented, more than 4600 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates and 62 National Medal of Science recipients, have signed onto a statement of complaint.  They criticize the administration for “placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice.”  Even White House science advisor John Marburger acknowledged the breadth and importance of scientists who signed the statement. (UCS, CNN)
Why they’re wrong:

Conservatives are fond of claiming that they employ “sound science” in their decisions, as if the science produced and endorsed by the scientific community is fundamentally flawed or biased.  The alternative that they provide is not, however, a more rigorous or even an alternative scientific method.  Instead, they replace scientific objectivity with a concept of truth driven by loyalty to industry, on the one hand, and puritanical religious ideology, on the other.  This shift is dangerous not only because of its implications for policymaking, but also because the consensus around science as truth is one of the few that America holds in common.  Removing science as the basis for regulatory policy threatens to permanently undermine the faith of Americans in the actions of the executive branch.