Status Briefing August 2005
The publication by the Union of Concerned Scientists of its report on Scientific Integrity early in 2004 was a significant event. The report was unusual for the depth and breadth of its documenting instances of the Bush Administration's overt politicization of the scientific process, particularly in public health, and in environmental and regulatory science. No doubt helped by the prominence of the scientists who first signed on to the "Restoring Scientific Integrity" statement, it dramatically increased the visibility of concerns about political abuses of science policy-making.
The report certainly got the attention of the White House. John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and chief science advisor to the President, issued an unprecedented twenty-page statement to Congress on 2 April 2004 that was intended to refute the charges made in the UCS report.
Despite strong assertions about the commitment of the Bush administration to "applying the highest scientific standards in decision-making", Marburger failed to make credible rebuttals of the UCS charges. As just one example, he called the UCS assertion that the Bush Administration was suppressing important climate-change research "not true"; however, events since then, particularly the criticism of US policy made by several participants in the recent G8 summit, suggest that the original claim was, if anything, conservative.
The administration's lack of scientific credibility on climate-change policy was further emphasized when the New York Times revealed that Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for White House Council on Environmental Quality, had repeatedly edited government climate reports to cast doubt on generally accepted scientific findings that were deemed to conflict with White House policy. Mr. Cooney, a White House aide who had previously been an oil-industry lobbyist fighting limits on emissions of greenhouse gases, had no scientific training; he quickly resigned when these facts were revealed.
This was not the first time that issues of abuses of scientific integrity had been raised. In December 2002, the Democratic staff of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Resources issued a report documenting White House manipulation of the Department of the Interior's environmental regulations for political purposes. In no uncertain terms the report states:
Over the past two years, the Administration has ignored, manipulated, challenged, suppressed and dictated scientific analysis in order to implement an agenda harmful to the environment and to roll back Clinton-era protections.
In 2003, Representative Henry A. Waxman issued a report discussing 19 subjects, from Abstinence-Only Education to Yellowstone National Park, in which the Bush Administration had again manipulated or suppressed scientific results for political purposes. On 13 April 2004, Rep. Waxman wrote a letter to Director Marburger in which he requested additional information from the OSTP documenting Marburger's charges of errors in the UCS report. Waxman wrote that "a close review reveals that your response is incomplete and leaves many important questions unaddressed. In fact, your response fails to provide adequate substantiation in at least 19 of the examples it discusses." Appended to the letter are "Additional Questions for Dr. John H. Marburger, III" that touch on issues in Waxman's report that were not addressed in the UCS report. Waxman's questions have so far gone unanswered.
This increased scrutiny of the over politicization of science in public policy-making is particularly valuable since the U.S. Congress no longer has technical assessment capabilities independent of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This is a recent development. In 1972 Congress created the Office of Technology Assessment to provide just such an independent capability, but Congress terminated funding for the OTA in 1992, effectively closing it down. There have been repeated attempts in the last few years to restore some sort of technical-assessment capability, but none has been successful. Most recently, Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey (one of only two physicists in the House of Representatives – the other is Vernon Ehlers of Michigan) offered an amendment that would have funded an assessment capability within the GAO. The amendment was defeated in August 2004. Recent history is showing that it may not be wise for the Congress to rely on the White House OSTP for science assessment capabilities.
Given its new visibility, science writer Chris Mooney has called "scientific integrity" the newest discipline in policy studies. Since the UCS report, there has been plenty of activity in this "new discipline".
In a different column, Mr. Mooney himself discussed additional instances in which the Administration altered the composition of advisory committees to meet political goals, and suppressed data concerning salmon recovery methods at the National Marine Fisheries Service. He has also has pointed out that the Bush Administration's policy on stem-cell research, arguably the most significant of the Bush Administration's science-policy decisions, "rested upon a scientific misrepresentation uttered by the president on national television. This alone counts as a staggering and unprecedented abuse of science in the making of government policy."
A report published recently by the American Civil Liberties Union looked at, among other things, how "excessive secrecy", over-classification of documents, and restrictions on the free publication of scientific results are being used by the Bush Administration to control the free flow of scientific information and suppress scientific results for political purposes.
Where policy cannot be directly altered to serve the Administration's political goals, policies can be reinterpreted and obscure rules enforced to achieve goals. As reported in The Washington Post
Federal officials have added an average of 9.5 species a year to the endangered list under President Bush, compared with 65 a year under President Bill Clinton and 59 a year under President George H.W. Bush. ... "Instead of taking the Endangered Species Act head on, the administration is working to destroy the effectiveness of it through executive rule changes," said Brian Nowicki, a conservation biologist at the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which promotes species conservation. "They can't just attack it outright, so they try to stop it out of the spotlight."
Although much of this anti-scientific manipulation does go on "out of the spotlight", some efforts are more blatant, and not all instances come directly from the White House but grow out of a larger misunderstanding and mistrust of science. There is in the country a widespread outbreak of anti-scientific fervor, amply demonstrated by numerous and notorious efforts to undermine the credibility of evolutionary science through outright attacks on its status as a scientific endeavor.
Consider the anti-scientific climate as gauged by the "Letters Requesting Information Regarding Global Warming Studies" written by Representative Joe Barton, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to several scientists prominent in climate-change research. In these letters Rep. Barton abused the power of his congressional position in an attempt to intimidate these scientists with extensive and inappropriate demands for information about their research and professional credentials.
The UCS report has evidently had a significant effect. It has been talked about in policy circles, in scientific circles, and by the public. The report brought visibility to a critical problem facing science policy, and also made clear the scope of the problem.
"The climate scientists didn't have to be told [by the UCS] what was going on," said Gottfried. "They, of course, were on top of it. It was the same case with public health and nuclear weapons experts." [...] What was striking, said Gottfried, was that the UCS report pulled together the claims of information manipulation and misuse of science into one document. Until that was done, he said, many scientists "may not have been fully aware of the extent and depth of this."
Significant as it was, the UCS report was only a beginning. In line with the Union of Concerned Scientists' well-known fields of expertise, the report covered health, environmental, and energy-policy issues. However, the UCS Scientific Integrity Campaign could use more depth in covering the physical sciences. There are growing concerns over weakening scientific leadership and shifting emphases in scientific programs at the major research agencies, including NASA, NOAA, NIST, NSF, and DOE. There is little public oversight of policy implementation at the major government research laboratories, such as the Office of Naval Research, the Navy Research Lab, or other federally funded R&D centers: Los Alamos, Lawrence-Livermore, Brookhaven, and FermiLab to name a few.
On April 22, 2004 there was a science policy forum organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Washington, D.C. In his speech before the group, Senator Tom Daschle said
If history shows anything, it's that a bet against science is a bet you cannot win. For the sake of short-term political posturing, the White House is putting the long-term security, health, and prosperity of our nation at risk.
This is a critical time for public science policy in the United States. These issues need to be exposed, discussed, and corrected if this country is to maintain a competitive position in an increasingly technological global market. But it's not only our technological edge that is at stake: scientific integrity in public policy is only one element necessary to sustaining credible leadership in the world. As then Secretary of State Colin Powell said in 2004: "Now, more than ever, American science must enlighten American statecraft."
- ^ The Union of Concerned Scientists, Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science (The Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MA, March 2004) – updated version of the report first released on 18 February 2004.
- ^ However, Marburger does not have the title of "White House Science Advisor": the title was eliminated when G.H.W. Bush appointed Marburger as Director of the OSTP, as explained by Bob Park in "The Science Advisor: Is There a White House Science Advisor?", What's New for Friday, September 2, 2005 <http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn090205.html>.
- ^ Statement of the Honorable John H. Marburger, III On Scientific Integrity in the Bush Administration, April 2, 2004, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, DC, <http://www.ostp.gov>.
- ^ Andrew C. Revkin, "Bush Aide Edited Climate Reports", New York Times, 8 June 2005, page A-1.
- ^ Weird Science: The Interior Department's Manipulation of Science for Political Purposes, Democratic Staff of the Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, Representative Nick J. Rahall, ranking member, 17 December 2002.
- ^ Prepared for Representative Henry A. Waxman, Politics and Science in the Bush Administration, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform – Minority Staff, Special Investigative Division, August 2003, updated 13 November 2003.
- ^ Genevieve J. Knezo, Technology Assessment in Congress: History and Legislative Options, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, RS21586, 20 May 2005.
- ^ Chris Mooney, "Science Wars II: Where does the debate now stand over science and the Bush administration?", "Doubt and About" column for 19 July 2005, website of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal <http://www.csicop.org>.
- ^ Chris Mooney, "Don't Listen to Those Pesky Scientists", "Doubt and About" column for 8 April 2004, website of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal <http://www.csicop.org>.
- ^ Chris Mooney, "The New Science Wars", "Doubt and About" column for 15 March 2004, website of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal <http://www.csicop.org>.
- ^ Tania Simoncelli and Jay Stanley, Science Under Siege: The Bush Administration's Assault on Academic Freedom and Scientific Inquiry (The American Civil Liberties Union, New York, June 2005.
- ^ Juliet Eilperin, "Endangered Species Act's Protections Are Trimmed", The Washington Post, 4 July 2004, page A01.
- ^ <http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/Letters/06232005_1570.htm>
- ^ Jim Dawson and Paul Guinnessy, "Marburger Refutes Claims That Bush Administration Misuses Science ", Physics Today, 57, no. 5, p. 29, April 2004.
- ^ Senator Tom Daschle, speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 22 April 2004 <http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2004/0422debate-daschle.shtml>.
- ^ Quoted in Richard M. Jones, "Of Note: S&T Policy Quotations of 2004," FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News, Number 2 (American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD) 5 January 2005, <http://www.aip.org/fyi>.