Pseudo-Science Debunked

How to separate fact from political fiction

| November / December 2007

  • Science by Peter O. Zierlein

    Illustration by Peter O. Zierlein

  • Science by Peter O. Zierlein

Under the Bush administration, citizens have been told that climate change isn’t such a big deal, evolution doesn’t belong in the classroom, and there’s no use crying over extinct species. It’s Francesca Grifo’s job to expose the manipulation of information that gives politicians cover for such claims. As the head of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Grifo documents the government’s meddling in science and advocates for a return to public policy based on sound evidence. Grifo, a senior scientist at the nonprofit and an expert in biodiversity and environmental education, explains how citizens can distinguish scientific fact from political fiction for themselves. 

How is science being politically manipulated? 

There’s the suppression of science. The poster child for that has been climate change: Various documents were modified, uncertainty was inserted, and the release of scientific information to the public has been limited.

We’re also seeing manipulation of scientific results. An example here is endangered species: [Former deputy assistant secretary] Julie MacDonald, the political appointee at the Fish and Wildlife Service, was taking scientists’ information and changing it. If we look broadly, the Reagan administration listed 289 endangered species, and the first Bush listed 232. Bush Two has listed 56. We’ve got 278 species waiting to be listed and no action.

Then there’s the manipulation of scientific advice, the most blatant example of which has been recent changes at the Environmental Protection Agency. They’ve completely changed the way that scientific advisory committees advise on national ambient air quality standards. It’s no longer a scientific document that informs final decisions; it’s a policy document.

This is not about the role of science in public policy. This is about changing science before it even gets into the arena where policy decisions are made. 

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