Waxman: Politics and Science in the Bush Administration
On 6 Augsut 2003, US Representative Henry Waxman released a 39-page report, Politics and Science in the Bush Administration, evaluating the treatment of science and scientists under the Bush Administration. The report was prepared by the staff of the Committee on Government Reform, Minority Office; Rep. Waxman is ranking minority member of the Committee. Release of the report was marked by the debut of a new website called "Politics & Science", maintained by the Committee's Minority Office, and devoted to presenting information about the topics investigated in the report.
The Waxman report was in the vanguard of those documenting the political manipulation of science by the Bush Administration, to be followed by related reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Civil Liberties Union and contributing to the impetus for the Scienticity Project at Ars Hermeneutica.
Findings of the Report
From the Executive Summary:
The American people depend upon federal agencies to promote scientific research and to develop science-based policies that protect the nation’s health and welfare. Historically, these agencies — such as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency — have had global reputations for scientific excellence.
Recently, however, leading scientific journals have begun to question whether scientific integrity at federal agencies has been sacrificed to further a political and ideological agenda. As the editor of Science wrote earlier this year, there is growing evidence that the Bush Administration “invades areas once immune to this kind of manipulation.”
The Administration’s political interference with science has led to misleading statements by the President, inaccurate responses to Congress, altered web sites, suppressed agency reports, erroneous international communications, and the gagging of scientists.
[T]he report identifies the three principal ways in which the Bush Administration has pursued its agenda: by manipulating scientific advisory committees, by distorting and suppressing scientific information, and by interfering with scientific research and analysis.
The report documents three principal ways in which the Bush Administration manipulates the scientific enterprise:
- Manipulating Scientific Advisory Committees by appointing nonexperts with strong ties to involved industries, appointing unqualified people with ideological agendas, stacking committees with policy partisans, and imposing political tests on candidates, all in an effort to direct committee recommendations in disregard of scientific findings;
- Distoring and Suppressing Scientific Information by witholding important scientific information, presenting incomplete or inaccurate information to congress and the American people, or skewing scientific results to support policy, in public announcements, statements, and agency reports; and
- Interfering with Scientific Research through increased and inappropriate scrutiny of ongoing research, obstruction of scientific analyses, judging programs based on political outcome, and blocking scientific publication.
Scientific results do not determine policy, but honest scientific results can help direct policy. As stated in the Introduction to the report:
There should be a clear line between the work of scientists, which is to assemble and analyze the best available evidence, and that of policymakers, which is to decide what the nation’s response to the science should be.
Please note that the following sections summarize findings at the time the report was released (in August 2004), and may not reflect current situations.
Sex educations programs for teens that combine information about contraception and encourage abstinance "have been shown in scientific studies to delay the onset of sexual activity and can result in greater use of potentially life-saving condoms and other contraceptives."
Despite a lack of scientific evidence that abstinance-only education programs for teens have any effect on reducing teen sexual activity, teen pregnancy, or the transmission of STDs, the Bush Administration insists that sex education should be "abstinance only" to the exclusion of any other approach. Thus, between 2001 and 2004, Congress appropriated over $100 million in grants to organizations in support of these ineffectual programs.
To disguise the failure of the abstinance-only approach, the Bush Administration has stopped applying objective program metrics, developed by Health and Human Services during the Clinton Administration, to assess the effectiveness of the anstinance-only programs, replacing them with subjective measures that do not measure actual results.
Until recently, the Centers for Disease Control
initiative called “Programs That Work” identified sex education programs that have been found to be effective in scientific studies and provided this information through its web site to interested communities. In 2002, all five “Programs That Work” provided comprehensive sex education to teenagers, and none were “abstinence-only.” In the last year [i.e., 2003--2004], and without scientific justification, CDC has ended this initiative and erased information about these proven sex education programs from its web site.
Environmentally sensitive groups in agricultural states are concerned about the pollution caused by water runoff from fields treated with insecticides, and from land devoted to animal husbandry. Commercial agricultural interests in those same states are concerned about the cost of implementing regulations that would control agricultural pollution.
In a USDA memo dated February 2002, scientist's in the Department's Agricultural Research Service were advised that prior approval was required on all research manuscripts on "sensitive subjects", which included
Agricultural practices with negative health and environmental consequences, e.g., global climate change; contamination of water by hazardous materials (nutrients, pesticides, and pathogens); animal feeding operations or crop production practices that negatively impact soil, water, or air quality.
This directive was used in 2002 as a pretext to suppress the publication of research results of microbiologist James Zahn, who had discovered antiobiotic-resistant bacteria "in the air near hog confinements in Iowa and Missouri", according to the Des Moines Register. He was also not allowed to present his findings at a meeting in the same year. According to the same Des Moines Register article:
Zahn later found a fax trail showing that information about his planned appearance . . . first passed from an environmental advocacy group to a Des Moines TV station, then to the Iowa Pork Producers Association office. Someone there sent the fax to the National Pork Producers Council in Zahn’s building. A pork council worker contacted Zahn’s boss . . . to question the appearance, Zahn said. [His boss] then called his superiors in Peoria, who decided Zahn could not speak at the meeting.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
During Senate hearings about proposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski posed a series of questions to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, a long-time supporter of the Bush Administrations oil-drilling plans. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drafted responses to the questions, but these responses, which presented data showing that wildlife would likely be affected, were altered when delivered by Secretary Norton to say that wildlife would not be affected, and she withheld other important information from Congress concerning caribou herd birth rates.
One Fish and Wildlife offical was quoted in the Washington Post story that provided the details:
If Congress is going to have a serious discussion on the future of the Arctic refuge, it ought to have the whole story, not a slanted story . . . . We tried to present all the facts, but she only passed along the ones she liked. And to pass along facts that are false, well, that’s obviously inappropriate.
Until the summer of 2002, the National Cancer Institute had posted on its website an analysis concluding that there was no link between abortions and breast cancer:
The analysis explained that after some uncertainty before the mid-1990s, this issue had been resolved by several well-designed studies, the largest of which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, finding no link between abortion and breast cancer risk.
However, in November 2002, this analysis was replaced with one that obfuscated the previously clearly stated conclusions of the best scientific analyses, promoting in its place the idea that confusion and controversy still existed over a possible link:
Some studies have reported statistically significant evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer in women who have had abortions, while others have merely suggested an increased risk. Other studies have found no increase in risk among women who have had an interrupted pregnancy.
Members of Congress protested the change, with the result that the
NCI convened a three-day conference of experts on abortion and breast cancer. Participants reviewed all existing population-based, clinical, and animal data available, and concluded that “[i]nduced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk,” ranking this conclusion as “well-established.” On March 21, 2003, the NCI web site was updated to reflect this conclusion.
Before 2002 the Centers for Disease Control website offered a fact sheet about condoms, Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs, which included information about how to use condoms properly, their rates of effectiveness, and noted that “a World Health Organization (WHO) review . . . found no evidence that sex education leads to earlier or increased sexual activity in young people.”
In 2002 this was replaced with Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, which lacked instructions on condom use, lacked details on effectiveness, instead emphasizing condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinance. In similar manner, in 2003, of two documents describing the effectiveness of condoms on the website of the State Department's USAID (Agency for International Development), one was removed from the website and one had its conclusions about condom effectiveness severely weakened.
The report adds that
The Bush Administration has also promoted unscientific positions on condom use internationally. In December 2002, the U.S. delegation at the Asian and Pacific Population Conference sponsored by the United Nations attempted to delete endorsement of “consistent condom use” as a means of preventing HIV infection. U.S. delegates took this position on the grounds that recommending condom use would promote underage sex. Contrary to these U.S. claims, scientific studies have shown that comprehensive sex education delays the onset of sexual activity. The U.S. opposition to “consistent condom use” was rejected, 32–1.
In 1997, the Department of Defense initiated studies of the toxicity of perchlorate contamination in drinking water. Perchlorate is the main ingredient in solid rocket-fuel, and poses serious health risks to fetuses and newborns. In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency incorporated the results of the DoD studies in proposing a limit of 1 part-per-billion perchlorate in drinking water, a level that would have required extensive cleanup efforts by the DoD or its contractors.
Subsequently, the DoD dropped all plans to that might have led to definitive perchlorate site testing cleanup. Instead,
the Administration proposed legislation to provide liability protection for the Pentagon and its contractors from claims related to perchlorate.
In May 2002 a Department of Education memo concerning the Department's website
instructs employees to remove all items dated earlier than February 2001 [i.e., prior to the beginning of the Bush Administration] unless the item:
- Is needed for a legal reason;
- Supports No Child Left Behind or other Administration priorities and initiatives;
- Is important for historical perspective (ie: statistical trends, the Nation at Risk report);
- Is important for policy reasons identified by an Assistant Secretary; or
- Is useful or valuable to parents, students, or educators and is consistent with the Administration’s philosophy.
An advisory committee had been constituted at the National Center for Environmental Health, within the Centers for Disease Control, to advise on program matters related to environmental health. Before August 2002, the committee had 3 members.
In August 2002, Health and Human Services appointed 15 new members to the committee who have close ties to regulated industries, apparently without input from the NCEH director.
Ten leading scientists wrote in Science that “stacking these public committees out of fear that they may offer advice that conflicts with administration policies devalues the entire federal advisory committee structure and the work of dedicated scientists who are willing to participate in these efforts.”
The report begins this lengthy section by observing
When President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, he promised the American people that “my Administration’s climate change policy will be science-based.” In fact, however, the Bush Administration has repeatedly manipulated scientific committees and suppressed science in this area.
This section of the report examines several telling incidents:
- In 2002, the US State Department, after being lobbied by ExxonMoble, opposed the reelection of Dr. Robert Watson to chair the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which he had led successfully since 1996. Under his leadership, the Panel had produced a report concluding that there was new and stronger evidence that earth's warming was due to human activities.
- In 2002 the Administration removed a section on global warming from an annual report on air pollution.
- In June 2003, the Administation published a report on the environment, acclaimed by EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman as "comprehensive" and "the most sophisticated science ever" -- the report contained no information on global warming. An earlier draft had such information, but White House advisors demanded major revisions that suppressed the information or severely obfuscated or weakened scientific statements about human culpability.
- In more than one instance, the EPA has refused analysis of proposed environmental legislation, or refused to release the results when requested by Congress, including a 2002 analysis of an alternative to the Bush Administration's "Clean Air Act" that proposed tighter limits on carbon-dioxide emissions, and another bill introduced later by Senators McCain and Lieberman that would have introduced national mandatory caps on emisisons of greenhouse gases.
Following the matter of the 2003 EPA report, Russel Train, former EPA Administrator for Presidents Nixon and Ford, wrote in a letter to the editor of the New York Times
I can state categorically that there never was such White House intrusion into the business of the E.P.A. during my tenure. The E.P.A. was established as an independent agency in the executive branch, and so it should remain. There appears today to be a steady erosion in its independent status.
President Bush has said that international efforts to fight HIV/AIDS should be concentrated on “programs that work, proven best practices.” At home, however, the Administration has obstructed the development of science-based policies and research on HIV/AIDS among the gay population.
- In January 2003, Bush appointed Jerry Thacker to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. When it was publically revealed that Thacker was a marketing consultant with no experience in public health, and that he had frequently made anti-homosexual remarks, he withdrew his name from consideration.
- "In May 2003, the New York Times reported that HHS may be applying 'unusual scrutiny' to grants that used key words such as 'men who sleep with men,' 'gay,' and 'homosexual.'
In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention was considering tightening their standard on levels of lead in the blood of children at which they recommended intervention, because new research suggested that childhood cognitive development could be impaired at levels less than half the previous recommendation.
"As the committee prepared to consider changing the standard, HHS Secretary Thompson removed or rejected several qualified scientists and replaced them with lead industry consultants" of questionable scientific expertise. It later emerged that the lead industry had been involved in the appointments.
"After abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, President Bush ordered the deployment of a missile defense system by 2004." In 2002 and 2003 several high-ranking Administration officials made extravagent claims about the speed of the deployment and about its expected effectiveness, claims that were at odds with analyses by defense-systems experts and scientists, in addition to the Pentagon's own internal, classified estimates. The Government Accountability Office is quoted as having said in April 2003 that the plan was "unworkable and even dangerous."
Oil and Gas
"Hydraulic fracturing" is a method of recovering oil and gas by injecting fluids, sometimes toxic and carcinogenic fluids, into geologic formations that then help force our the petrolium products. These geologic formations frequently contain undergound sources of drinking water.
In 2002, the EPA produced a report on the possible hazards to the drinking-water supply, and briefed Congress. A week later, reported results that led to concern over benzene contamination were changed, without scientific justification (reportedly explaining that the change was "based on feedback" from an industry source), to indicate that expected contamination levels would be safe.
The report notes that the leading provider of hydrolic fracturing is Halliburton, previously led by Vice President Cheney.
Prescription Drug Advertising
Each year, pharmaceutical companies spend $2.5 Billion on "direct-to-consumer" advertising about drugs. They claim that such ads inform consumers and improve health care; some independent experts disagree, saying that the ads misinform and confuse health consumers.
"A recent FDA report distorted scientific evidence on this issue in a manner that supports the position of the pharmaceutical industry." The Talk Paper, dated 13 January 2003, claimed that a survey of 500 physicians confirmed that direct-to-consumer advertising can serve public-health purposes; it presented "highlights" of the study that supported that conclusion. However, the "highlights" were selectively chosen, and the result "that FDA turned a balanced study into an endorsement of direct-to-consumer advertisements."
The Food and Drug Administration's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee is responsible for evaluating the safety and effectiveness of drugs for gynecology, obstetrics, and related subjects. In 2002, Health and Human Services nominated the notably underqualified Dr. W. David Hager, a conservative religious activist, to chair the committee. As reported:
Dr. Hager’s major publications are medical books imbued with religious themes, such as offering advice that women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome should pray and read the bible.
Ultimately, Hager was not named chair but he did become a member of the committee.
Since the original release of the Waxman report, issues over research with stem cells has received a great deal of publicity. When Bush banned federal funding for research on new stem-cell lines in August 2001, he claimed that there were 60 existing stem cell lines that could be used for research so the affect of his ban would be minimized.
Stem cell researchers were skeptical about the President's assertion. Soon thereafter it emerged that fewer than helf of those stem cell lines were mature enough to use, some had genetic problems, and some could not be safely transported to other labs.
In May 2003, the Director of the National Insitutes of Health testified to congress that, in fact, only 11 viable stem cell lines existed, and that all were potentially contaminated by viruses that might render them useless for human research.
In 2002, Dr. William Miller of the University of New Mexico, where he was professor of psychology and psychiatry, was asked to join the National Institutes of Healt's National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse. However, before he was appointed, he was visited by an aide from Health and Human Services Secretary Thompson's office and asked a number of inappropriate questions.
Did he support needle exchange? He did. "That's a problem," the aide responded. He was asked whether he had voted for the President, to which he responded no. "The aide asked, 'Why didn’t you support the President?'"
Dr. Miller was not appointed to the Advisory Council.
In March 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed new protections for wetlands. After the National Association of Home Builders filed suit, and after President Bush took office, the Corps reversed course and moved to weaken these protections.
Typically, given the scope of the project, the Department of the Interior would comment on the Corps proposed rules changes. In fact, scientists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service did the analysis, but it was suppressed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, claiming that the department had run out of time. Subsequently, the rules were weakened.
Research grants from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are reviewed by the Safety and Occupational Health study section. In 2002, three scientists with "excellent credentials" nominated to the study section were rejected by Health and Human Services Secretary Thompson, apparently for strictly political reasons.
One of the rejected nominees, Dr. Laura Punnett, had previously given Senate testimony in favor of regulations that would reduce musculoskeletal injuries. Industry groups objected and, shortly after taking office, Bush repealed the regulations aimed at reducing such injuries, which affect over 1 million workers each year.
Yellowstone National Park
The United Nation’s World Heritage Committee maintains a list of parks in danger and in need of international attention. In April of 2003, the Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Paul Hoffman asked that Yellowstone National Park be removed from the list, citing a report to that effect written by Yellowstone staff.
However, the final report cited by Hoffman had been significantly edited from an earlier draft that described several problems that continued to threaten the park. In the final version of the report sent to the World Heritage Committee, these various concerns had been excised.
- ^ Special Investigations Division, Minority Staff of the Committee on Government Reform, US House of Representatives, "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration", "prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, August 2003.
- ^ "About Politics & Science: The State of Science Under the Bush Administration", August 2003.
- ^ Footnote in original: D. Kirby, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy, at 78 (May 2001).
- ^ Footnote in original: USDA, List of Sensitive issues for ARS Manuscript Review and Approval by National Program Staff — February 2002 (revised) (Feb. 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: Ag Scientists Feel the Heat, Des Moines Register (Dec. 1, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: Departmental Differences Show over ANWR Drilling, Washington Post (Oct. 19, 2001).
- ^ Footnote in original: M. Melbye et al., Induced Abortion and the Risk of Breast Cancer, New England Journal of Medicine, 81–85 (Jan. 9, 1997).
- ^ Footnote in original: National Cancer Institute, Summary Report: Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer (Mar. 4, 2003) (online at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/ere-workshop-report)
- ^ Footnote in original: National Cancer Institute, Abortion, Miscarriage, and Breast Cancer Risk (Mar. 21, 2003) (online at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/abortion-miscarriage). [hyperlink updated]
- ^ Footnore in original: CDC, Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs (Sept. 1999).
- ^ Footnote in original: U.S. Stance on Abortion and Condom Use Rejected at Conference, San Jose Mercury News (Dec. 17, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: Pentagon Hid Pollution Report, Lawmakers Say, Wall Street Journal (May 19, 2003); “Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act of 2003,” S.927, section 301 (Apr. 28, 2003).
- ^ Footnote in original: Department of Education, Criteria and Process for Removing Old Content from www.ed.gov (May 31, 2002); emphasis added in the Waxman report.
- ^ Footnote in original: Critics See a Tilt in CDC Science Panel, Science, 1456–57 (Aug. 30, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: White House, President’s Statement on Climate Change (July 13, 2001) (online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/07/20010713-2.html).
- ^ Footnote in original: Russell E. Train, When Politics Trumps Science (Letter to the Editor), New York Times (June 21, 2003).
- ^ Footnote in original: White House, Remarks by the President during Announcement of Proposal for Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (May 11, 2001).
- ^ Footnote in original: Certain Words Can Trip up AIDS Grants, Scientists Say, New York Times (Apr. 18, 2003).
- ^ Footnote in original: Threats and Responses: Defense, New York Times (Dec. 18, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: GAO, Missile Defense: Knowledge-Based Practices Are Being Adopted, but Risks Remain (Apr. 2003).
- ^ Footnote in original: David W. Hager and Linda Carruth Hager, Stress and the Woman’s Body (1996) as cited in Jesus and the FDA, Time (Oct. 5, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: UNM Prof Says Politics Move in on Science, Albuquerque Journal (Dec. 20, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: 65 Federal Register 12818 (Mar. 9, 2000).
- ^ Footnote in original: Interior’s Silence on Corps Plan Questioned, Washington Post (Jan. 14, 2002).
- ^ Footnote in original: 66 Federal Register 42070 (Aug. 9, 2001).
- Ted Agres, "Science, policy, and partisan politics: Congressional report fuels debate over science and decision making", The Scientist, 13 August 2003.
- Caroline Hadley, "Science policy in the USA: Sweeping changes to government science under the Bush administration may have caused long-term damage, scientists fear", EMBO reports 5:10, 932–935, 2004.
- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., "The Junk Science of George W. Bush", The Nation, 8 March 2004.
- Rick Weiss, "Bush Misuses Science, Report Says: Democrats Say Data Are Distorted to Boost Conservative Policies", originally Washington Post, 8 August 2003, reproduced by Common Dreams NewsCenter.