Leading Scientists Accuse Bush of Politicizing Science

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A group of scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, last week signed a petition condemning the White House for deliberately and systematically distorting scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad. [includes transcript]

Last week, a group of scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, signed a petition condemning the White House for deliberately and systematically distorting scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad.

According to the report entitled “Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration’s Misuse of Science,” the White House censors and suppresses reports by its own scientists, stacks advisory committees and disbands government panels.

We contacted the Office of Science and Technology Policy, of the Executive Office of the President. They declined to join us on the show.

  • Alden Meyer, Director of Policy and Government Relations for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
  • Russell Train, Environmental Administrator under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He currently serves as Chairman emeritus at the World Wildlife Fund.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We contacted the office of Science and Technology policy, which is in the executive office of the president. They declined to join us for the show. But we are joined by Alden Meyer, director of Policy of Government Relations for the Union of Concerned Scientists and Russell Train, who was the Environmental Administrator under Nixon and Ford and is Chair Emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund. Let’s begin with Alden Meyer. Can you begin with your report on the White House politicizing science. Can you sum it up for us?

ALDEN MEYER: Basically what we found in the investigation and what the scientists charged in the statement that was released is that the Bush administration is misusing science in its approach to policy making on federal issues. And as a result of that misuse, their policy decisions are having serious consequences for our health, safety and environment.

It falls into three broad categories. There are examples under each of those. One is that, as you have said, they have been distorting and censoring findings that contradict their predetermined policies. Maybe the clearest example is on climate change where the White House insisted that the Environmental Protection Agency drastically rewrite a draft section of a report on the environment on Global Warming to emphasize the uncertainties and downplay the mainstream consensus of the world scientists, the human activities are causing climate change, and that this will have serious consequences in the future. The scientists and career staff of the EPA were so appalled by the changes that the White House tried to make in that report that rather than accept the change, they deleted the section entirely from draft report rather than put out something that was scientifically incorrect.

A second area is undermining the independence of the science advisory panels. There are literally hundreds of these independent panels to federal agencies from the Department of Defense across to Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy, the EPA, the FDA, and other agencies. And these panels serve an important function in providing independent, objective scientific advice to these agencies on critical scientific and technical issues. Our report documents examples where potential appointees to these advisory committees have been subjected to litmus tests on their stands, issues like abortion and in a few isolated cases who they voted for. Nominating people that really don’t have qualifications to be on the panels, or under-qualified individuals from outside of the mainstream of the scientific community. And in many cases replacing members of these panels with people suggested by the industries that are regulated by the very agencies that the panels are advising. And in a couple of cases, panels were disbanded entirely because some of the members of these panels expressed a view — views opposed to the policies the administration was taking. A host of abuses in those areas.

These may sound like technical concerns. Violations of the process of science is not something that the average American gets up worrying about every day. The bottom line is that the abuses of science have real world consequences for the health and safety of the American public, affecting things from lead contamination of our children to teen pregnancy, HIV AIDS, impacts on states across the country from climate change. So, even though they may seem arcane and a little technical, these abuses of the scientific process do have real world consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go into the issue of lead. But the — well, the White House wouldn’t come on; they did issue a statement saying the statement from the Union of Concerned Scientists is disappointing, because it makes sweeping generalizations about the administration based on what appears to be a miscellany of criticisms, which have been made in the past by partisan political figures and advocacy organizations. I’m wondering Russell Train if you could respond to this as the Environmental Administrator under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

RUSSELL TRAIN: Well, as a life-long, love-long Republican, I think it’s a little out of line to say that my criticism of the Bush administration science policy is a partisan attack. I like to think that I’m professional, and concerned about science, which we should all be. It certainly is not partisan, nor is — nor was the report of the Union of Concerned Scientists sweeping generalizations. They were very specific in a number of areas. You just heard some of them.

I would also add, for example, after the 9-11 attack in New York, when the EPA was putting out a health advisory on the emissions, the health risk from the emissions from the fallen towers, the White House apparently intervened and had the risk assessment lowered. That kind of a thing. And that’s an outrage. That’s just a political intrusion into —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean had the risk assessment. What do you mean had the risk assessment lowered?

RUSSELL TRAIN: The EPA said there was a high risk. The White House had them moderate that statement so that the public would not feel they were at risk. That’s something, another example, and there are plenty of them. Look at the Department of the Interior. At the present time, they haven’t listed all — voluntarily listed a single endangered species under the Endangered Species Act since this administration has been in office. They simply pay no attention to the science. That’s a generalization, but I think it is fairly accurate across the board.

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