Thursday, April 29, 2004

Bush's manipulation and abuse of science threatens the well being of our nation

Scientific American magazine has a withering editorial assailing the Bush administration for its political manipulation of science. They make an apt comparison between the current ideology-driven administration and the Soviets of the 1930s:

“Starting in the 1930s, the Soviets spurned genetics in favor of Lysenkoism, a fraudulent theory of heredity inspired by Communist ideology. Doing so crippled agriculture in the U.S.S.R. for decades. You would think that bad precedent would have taught President George W. Bush something. But perhaps he is no better at history than at science.”

The Bush administration’s efforts to impose their fundamentalist ideology in place of sound science was well documented recently by the Union of Concerned Scientists in a report signed by 62 leading scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, 19 recipients of the National Medal of Science, and advisers to the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

The report details instances where the administration “misrepresented the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and other experts on climate change. It meddled with the discussion of climate change in an Environmental Protection Agency report until the EPA eliminated that section. It suppressed another EPA study that showed that the administration's proposed Clear Skies Act would do less than current law to reduce air pollution and mercury contamination of fish. It even dropped independent scientists from advisory committees on lead poisoning and drug abuse in favor of ones with ties to industry.”

The Bush administration responded to the report by having John Marburger, George Bush's science adviser, issue a strongly worded defence of the president's science policy.

This past week, the Economist magazine took a look at the back and forth and found that while “some of Marburger’s responses look justified—for example, his denials that the Bush administration overruled scientific advisers in acting to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Some, however, have a whiff of spin about them.” And in other instances he is simply unconvincing such as with the accusations of committee-packing, the rebuttal merely states that the UCS report is wrong in all instances, without explaining why.

The Economist, which is based in England, tends to be a slightly moderate to conservative publication (they support the war in Iraq, for instance), so their perspective is refreshingly free of American political bias. So I halfway expected to read a wishy-washy “both sides are bad” type of summation of the issue, but instead they end thier piece with this rather frightening denunciation of the Bush administration:

“To the extent that it is aimed at environmental and bioethical questions, which have long divided America on party-political lines, this disagreement could be seen as business as usual. However, it is not limited to those fields. There is a widespread feeling among scientists that Mr Bush is ignoring scientific results and opinions he does not like in other areas, too. In August 2003 the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform made claims similar to those of the UCS report. But it also observed widespread scientific unease about the feasibility of the missile-defence systems proposed by the administration. This report has gone unanswered by Dr Marburger, as has a report made in July 2003 by the American Physical Society (APS), a professional organisation for physicists in America. The APS report concluded that boost-phase missile defence, one element of the system planned by the Bush administration, would be ineffective.

“These are serious accusations. Suppressing research into stem cells is causing that research to move abroad, which will damage America's biotechnology industry. But that will not be fatal to America's future, and opponents of stem-cell research might argue that it is a price worth paying for their beliefs. Monkeying with defence is a different matter. America's current military prowess has been achieved, in large part, because the country has listened to and lauded its physicists and engineers. Spending billions on technology that most of them believe will not work is, at the least, a dubious approach. Politicians can cheat nature no more effectively than scientists can.”

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