Scientists Condemn White House Distortion of Data
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Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 1, 2004
Leading U.S. Scientists Condemn White House Censorship and Distortion of Science Data
- Interview with Dr. Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, conducted by Scott Harris
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In a statement signed by more than 60 prominent scientists -- including 20 Nobel laureates -- leading medical experts, former heads of government agencies and presidents of universities condemned the Bush administration for suppressing and distorting scientific analysis and taking actions which have undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels. Russell Train, who served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Republican presidents Nixon and Ford, was among the endorsers. The declaration, and an accompanying report titled "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," was issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Feb. 18.
The signers of the statement maintain that the administration has employed censorship, and manipulated data in areas such as air pollution, climate change and the control of toxic substances in pursuit of partisan political gain. Allegations that scientists working at several federal agencies have been subjected to political interference in their research are examined in the report.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Dr. Kurt Gottfried, emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University and chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists board of directors. Dr. Gottfried summarizes the scientist's critique of the White House handling of science issues and their call for congressional hearings to investigate their charges.
Dr. Kurt Gottfried: There's been a mounting alarm stretching back now a couple of years about the way the administration interacts with science. This is not an alarm about the way it funds science; that is not an issue that we address at all. It is not really even about the policies they espouse and want to get through legislation and so forth. The alarm is that the administration distorts the process by which it feeds scientific knowledge and information into its decision-making and secondly, that it distorts and misrepresents the science that surrounds its policies.
So for example, take the case of climate change, which is in a way the most serious case because of its long-term impact. I mean, the president ran on a platform which opposed mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gas emission. So, you know, he was elected on that. So that's not what we're, we're not really complaining about his opposition to climate change policies. What we're complaining about is that they distort the picture. First, the most important and well-known example, actually is that when the Environmental Protection Agency last spring was about to issue a major report on the environment which had a chapter on climate change, the White House tried to order the EPA to change that chapter on climate change by deleting a graph that shows the temperature record over the last thousand years; by removing a reference to a National Academy of Science study that the president himself had ordered; changing the wording so that it now implies that cooling is as likely as warming. What finally happened is that the EPA staff decided it was not going to publish this chapter at all because they didn't want to defend this scientifically indefensible document.
Between The Lines: Dr. Gottfried, are the actions that the Bush administration is taking around science comparable to things that you've seen in other presidential administrations in the last several decades?
Dr. Gottfried: No, it's our contention -- and one of the basic things we're saying -- that this is an unprecedented -- to our recollection, and we're not a young outfit, I regret to say. I would say that the average age of the signers that I know, is over 60. So, they've seen a lot of administrations and a lot of interactions between administrations over a long period of time and we are saying this is unprecedented in extent and intensity.
There are individual cases in other administrations in both parties; they are not free of this, but it's never been seen at this level. People cannot recall candidates or nominees for advisory committees for example, being asked about their political views and in some instances -- there's even documented ones in our report -- where they were asked who they voted for in the last election. That I had not heard before.
Between The Lines: Given that it's an election year, what would you like to see happen here in this report and your specific charges made against the Bush administration? What outcome would you want to see happen here?
Dr. Gottfried: Well, I think the first thing that should happen in a way, is for Congress to have a look at this. We're limited, really in the end, into how much we can investigate this situation. We've done the best job we could, much of what we have to say has been in newspapers all over the place and we've put it together. We've done some investigation that goes beyond that. We have interviewed a fair number of people inside the government, but they of course, can't give their name, so the report has to say this is by an anonymous source. Congress could really look into this, get a much better feel for what really the story is in full detail.
One thing that we're quite concerned about is the morale of outstanding institutions like the National Institute of Health. The National Institute of Health is one of the great scientific institutions in the world. The scientists that work there are the top people, can find employment elsewhere. You know, it took decades to produce the high quality of an institution like the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health, but it can be destroyed quite quickly. So I think what's important would be for Congress to have a serious look at this and see to it that it passes legislation and regulations that make some of these activities that we're concerned about illegal or at least difficult to pursue.
You know, I've come to think that this is not just a problem for this administration. If it becomes possible to do the sort of things we complain about and has become possible, there's no guarantee that won't continue in another administration of a different party. Any decision-maker likes to get information that confirms an opinion he already has. Therefore you need, a fence, so to say, or restriction which don't make it so easy for pre-cooked decisions to be confirmed by scientific data. If we don't repair that situation, it might become permanent.
To obtain a copy of the group's statement and report, contact the Union of Concerned Scientists at (617) 547-5552 or visit their website at http://www.ucsusa.org
Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl030504.html:
"Preeminent Scientists Protest Bush Administration's Misuse of Science," Nobel Laureates, National Medal of Science Recipients and Other Leading Researchers Call for End to Scientific Abuses, Union of Concerned Scientists, Feb. 18, 2004
"Lies About War, Economics, Science: President's Lies Are Never-Ending"
"Now the Pentagon Tells Bush: Climate Change Will Destroy Us"
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending March 5, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo.
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