Science editor Kennedy: Science community recognizes Administration puts politics before science


“The science community now recognizes that this administration completely puts its political cart before the scientific horse,” Science magazine editor in chief Donald Kennedy told USA TODAY. “We’ve seen it with one issue after another.”

In “Science vs. politics gets down and dirty,” Dan Vergano of USA TODAY reports on the estrangement between the Bush administration and the nation’s scientific community on global warming and other issues.

The relationship, which has been troubled since the dawn of the Bush presidency, hit a new low last month when Richard Carmona, surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, lashed out at his former colleagues in testimony before a House committee.

(See our July 10 posting, “Former Surgeon General says Bush political appointees censored science communication.”)

The article notes several cases of political interference with climate science communication, all of which we have discussed in numerous postings:

o NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified in March before a House committee about how a 24-year-old press liaison, a political appointee, barred him from speaking publicly about global warming. “Review and editing of scientific testimony by the White House Office of Management and Budget seems to now be an accepted practice,” he added.

o Weather researcher Thomas Knutson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Senate in February how appointees forbade him from commenting on links between hurricanes and global warming.

o In 2005, leaked documents revealed that the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a former oil industry lawyer, had altered climate reports to soften scientific findings showing that fossil-fuel use and deforestation triggered global warming.

White House Science Office Director John Marburger, ever the company man blowing smoke on the President’s behalf, says:

“I have not seen any orchestration or central direction about what you can’t talk about.” The president expects scientists to share their expertise and to “be a little bit proactive in getting the truth out” if they encounter resistance, he says.

Dan Sarewitz, who teaches science policy at Arizona State, gets it backward by questioning the legitimacy of criticism of administration’s record.  It’s Bush’s critics who are “using science as a political tool,” he suggests:

“I think the opportunity to use science as a political tool against Bush has been irresistible ­- but it is very dangerous for science, and for politics. You can expect to see similar accusations of the political use of science in the next regime.”

Sarewitz appears to take the administration and its claims at face value, without a hint of critique, while doing a political hit on the science community:

On the whole, the Bush administration has supported funding science just like past administrations, Sarewitz says…And because polls show that scientists tend to be Democrats, Sarewitz says, their complaints should be viewed cautiously.

So it’s really scientists who are responsible for their problem with the administration and suspect in their perception that the integrity of science and science communication has been undermined by the administration’s actions, while the administration is somehow off the hook on these substantive issues because civilian plus military R&D funding remains at a reasonably high aggregate level? 

Chris Mooney, like Donald Kennedy, is more incisive:

“The only reason the truth is getting out now is that a new Congress is holding Bush’s feet to the fire,” says Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science. Mooney says the administration’s leaders have long discouraged scientists.

Perhaps the best quote in the article is from Washington science policy journalist Dan Greenberg, who says:

“The Bush administration has interests—­ ideological, theological and compliant to some industries -­- that are its preoccupations. Scientists have an inflated sense of themselves if they think the administration has anything against them in particular as it pursues its goals in ways that disregard their views.”

Reminds us just a bit of the black comedy exchange in Catch-22 when, as I recall, Yossarian refuses to fly any more missions on the grounds that the other side is trying to shoot him down and kill him. Don’t take it so personally, he’s admonished—they’re trying to kill all of us.


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