60 leading researchers, including Nobelists, detail suppression under Bush
February 19, 2004
Alarmed by what they call the "suppression and distortion of science"
by the Bush administration, more than 60 top scientists, including 20 Nobel
laureates, issued a scathing report yesterday detailing instances in which
government agencies allegedly stifled legitimate research.
Written by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the study included a range of
allegations that: the EPA hid data supporting the existence of global warming;
the Department of Agriculture muzzled research that might have damaged
large-scale hog farming; and the administration stacked scientific advisory
panels with politically biased members.
"This is absolutely unprecedented. There's something irrational about what
this administration is doing," said retired Cornell physics professor Kurt
Gottfried, chairman of the UCS board.
The report, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into
the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science," did not uncover new episodes
of alleged tampering, but it did add previously unknown details - some from
government scientists who had not spoken out before.
"Its major purpose was to show how comprehensive and widespread these
practices are. It's the overall picture that is most distressing," said one
of the signers, Rice University physicist Neal Lane.
Lane is a former director of the National Science Foundation, as well as the
presidential science adviser during the Clinton administration.
President Bush's top science adviser disputed the report and called it
"It makes sweeping generalizations about policy that are based on a random
selection of incidents. I don't think these incidents add up to a case,"
said John Marburger, a physicist and director of the Federal Office of Science
He called the signers "distinguished scientists and educators" but
said they had misinterpreted the evidence.
Each of the incidents in the report had an innocent explanation, he said: "In
all of these cases there is a supportable reason for taking these actions."
The report's backers questioned his claim. "It's quite apparent that
scientific decisions are being made by political appointees," said one of
the signers, Lynn Goldman, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Goldman, who oversaw regulation of pesticides and toxic chemicals for the EPA
during the Clinton administration, said many of her former EPA colleagues were
demoralized by rampant political interference.
Marburger, who said he had no plans to discuss the report with the president,
defended Bush's views on research. "The president is quite supportive of
science. He understands that science is the basis of innovation," he said.
Among the allegations included in the report:
administration demanded that the EPA remove from a major report data
supporting the notion of global warming.
EPA withheld an analysis showing that the administration's plan to reduce
air pollution was less effective than a competing proposal.
Department of Agriculture stifled a researcher who was examining resistance
to antibiotics in the swine industry.
G. Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, rejected qualified
appointees to a committee on childhood lead poisoning, in favor of
researchers friendly to the lead industry, including two with financial
connections to it. The report details several instances in which the
administration allegedly appointed biased researchers to such committees.
Office of Management and Budget delayed a report that found high mercury
levels in almost 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.
Gottfried and others emphasized that such alleged tampering has concrete
consequences. "These are not just abstractions," he said. "Mercury
is a potent neurotoxin that's dangerous for children."
The UCS report called on Congress to hold hearings on the allegations and
asked the president to authorize Marburger to come up with new regulations
prohibiting censorship and distortion of government scientific research.
Some participants hoped the report would have more immediate consequences,
forcing the administration to limit future interference.
Goldman, for example, cited an Office of Management and Budget proposal to
add another level of review to government-funded research. Critics call it a
cynical attempt to trap controversial studies in a labyrnth of biased
"This is signaling that the scientific community is now watching what's
going on," said David Michaels, a professor of occupational and
environmental health at George Washington University who signed the report.
Marburger said he would work with agencies to clarify the real story behind
the alleged incidents but he saw no need for a comprehensive investigation.
UCS is an independent watchdog group that often criticizes government
science, particularly environmental and security policy. But the report's
signers emphasized that this group represents a broad coalition of
scientists, including many who don't normally speak on politically charged
"This is not Greenpeace. Presidential science advisers and Nobel Prize
winners aren't normally an activist group," said Michaels.
"It includes a lot of people who aren't concerned all that often,"
joked one signer, atmospheric scientist F. Sherwood Rowland, who won the
Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on global warming.
Michaels has been a frequent critic of the administration's science policy
but noted that some signers had served under Republican administrations,
including Richard Garwin, who was a science adviser to President Richard M.
The signers also include current heads of several institutions, including
David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, and
Gerald Fischbach, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Columbia University.
Gottfried called such participation unusual among leaders whose institutions
depend heavily on federal grants. "They're taking a real risk doing
this," he said.
Some critics say they're worried that the Bush administration's policies
could drive demoralized scientists away from respected government agencies.
Gottfried said the censorship issue is particularly distasteful: "This
is extremely offensive to scientists, much more than people realize. That's
the scientific method - that we're allowed to say what we've discovered."
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