Tabling Science

The Union of Concerned Scientists charts the Bush administration's suppression of information

| December 21, 2006

Imagine a world where the current administration actually takes the advice of its leading scholars and scientists. We might have an effective plan for tackling global warming. The drugs our sick take might be safer. The air we breathe might be cleaner. But those ideas seem almost unfathomable in the midst of the Bush administration's systematic manipulation of scientific analyses generated by agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is determined to put the science back into the reports that have been through the administration's wringer. The group has an ongoing program to shed light on federal attempts to sidestep scientific integrity for the sake of policy positions. Since 2004, more than 10,000 scientists -- including more than 50 Nobel laureates -- have signed its petition calling on President Bush to, among other things, 'return to the ethic and code of conduct which once fostered independent and objective scientific input into policy formation.'

Now comes the latest and perhaps most publicly accessible weapon in the group's arsenal: an 'A to Z' guide chronicling the government's suppression with a periodic table of seedy elements. More than 50 reports of misinformation are organized by color, date, and element. Take 'Vo' -- for school vouchers -- as an example. If you click on that 'element' you'll learn that '[i]n July 2006, Department of Education officials announced a $100 million proposal to fund vouchers for poor children to attend private schools, while at the same time keeping quiet about a study released just days earlier that showed private schools to be no more effective at educating children than public schools.'

Select 'L' -- coded orange for 'pollution and contamination' category -- and you'll get the details on the closure of some 27 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) libraries (hence the 'L') before budget cuts had actually been authorized by Congress. The budget cuts, which asked for an 80 percent slash, limited access to scientific information that could critically impact the United States by placing it beyond the reach of government scientists and independent researchers -- not to mention the public. 'We think this is one of several actions the Bush administration is taking to lobotomize the EPA, to reduce its capability, so it's much less able to independently review industry submissions,' Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for federal environment employees, told the Christian Science Monitor.

That sentiment has been echoed across disciplines among those concerned that science is no longer driving scientific policy. As Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, told the BBC, 'It's very difficult to make good public policy without good science, and it's even harder to make good public policy with bad science.'

Go there >> A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

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