Posted on Thu, Feb. 19, 2004
White House accused of suppressing science
More than 60 top scientists accuse the Bush administration of manipulating and censoring science for political purposes.
BY SETH BORENSTEIN
WASHINGTON - A group of more than 60 top U.S. scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and several science advisors to past Republican presidents, on Wednesday accused the Bush administration of manipulating and censoring science for political purposes.
In a 46-page report and an open letter, the scientists accused the administration of ''suppressing, distorting or manipulating the work done by scientists at federal agencies'' in several cases. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a liberal advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., organized the effort, but many of the critics aren't associated with it.
White House science advisor John Marburger III called the charges ''like a conspiracy theory report, and I just don't buy that.'' But he added that ``given the prestige of some of the individuals who have signed on to this, I think they deserve additional response, and we're coordinating something.''
The protesting scientists welcomed his response.
''If an administration of whatever political persuasion ignores scientific reality, they do so at great risk to the country,'' said Stanford University physicist W.H.K. Panofsky, who served on scientific advisory councils in the Eisenhower, Johnson and Carter administrations. ``There is no clear understanding in the [Bush] administration that you cannot bend science and technology to policy.''
The report charges that administration officials have:
• Ordered massive changes to a section on global warming in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2003 Report on the Environment. Eventually, the entire section was dropped.
• Replaced a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet on proper condom use with a warning emphasizing condom failure rates.
• Ignored advice from top Department of Energy nuclear materials experts who cautioned that aluminum tubes being imported by Iraq weren't suitable for use to make nuclear weapons.
• Established political litmus tests for scientific advisory boards. In one case, public-health experts were removed from a CDC lead paint panel and replaced with researchers who had financial ties to the lead industry.
• Suppressed a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist's finding that potentially harmful bacteria float in the air surrounding large hog farms.
• Excluded scientists who have received federal grants from regulatory advisory panels while permitting the appointment of scientists from regulated industries.
''I don't recall it ever being so blatant in the past,'' said Princeton physicist Val Fitch, a 1980 Nobel Prize winner who served on a Nixon administration science advisory committee.