Science under attack by Bush administration

An editorial in this weeks's Nature points out that researchers are increasingly upset with the Bush administration, not only for its tactics but for its entire operational philosophy.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) scientific leaders made clear their views on the perilous relationship between science and the Bush administration.

The Union of Concerned Scientists organized the discussion in the wake of revelations about how the Bush administration's political appointees have tried tocontrol the messages communicated by scientists to the public. A recent prominent example was the attempts by the NASA press office to muzzle climate scientist James Hansen.

Many US scientists now believe that the Bush administration is prepared not only to ignore scientific facts in making policy decisions, but also to suppress findings that conflict with its own priorities.

Nature observes:

"For Baltimore — Nobel laureate, outgoing president of the California Institute of Technology, president-elect of the AAAS, and arguably the most eminent voice in all of American science — events have reached a tipping point. He suggested that the Bush administration's approach to science stems from its adherence to a particular philosophy of government, that of a 'unitary executive'. Instead of resignedly shrugging their shoulders whenever such a case of scientific manipulation arises, Baltimore argued, scientists need to recognize the potency of the threat that this governmental philosophy represents to the long-cherished independence of US science.

"Scientists need to recognize the potency of the threat this philosophy represents to the long-cherished independence of US science.

"The unitary executive is an old idea, but not many Americans had heard of it until last month, when it cropped up during the Senate confirmation process of Supreme Court judge Samuel Alito. At the extreme, it holds that the executive branch can run the US federal government as it sees fit, especially in wartime. Given that a seminal achievement of the Constitution of the United States was to establish a balance of power between the executive branch, the Congress and the judiciary, this may sound absurd, but it seems to hold considerable sway within the Bush administration.

"Baltimore warned that the doctrine opens the way for "an exertion of executive hegemony over science". He called on researchers to "fight for a very different doctrine" under which "the executive's role is to defend intellectual freedom". In the light of the Bush administration's adherence to this philosophy, he added: "It is no accident that we are seeing such an extensive suppression of science." From someone of Baltimore's experience and reputation, these are strong words.

"For science to flourish it needs settings that support freedom of enquiry, and the creation of such settings was a great achievement of the Enlightenment. Protecting them is vital, not just for science but for all of humanity.

"In its five years in office, the Bush administration has sought to exert tighter control of the branches of government where scientists work. This applies not only to regulatory agencies, where politics are never far below the surface, but also to places such as the National Institutes of Health and NASA, where intramural researchers are used to the freedom of expression enjoyed by their university colleagues.

"It is by no means the case that these proud federal agencies or their staff have fallen subject to the executive branch's decree. Most federal agencies have a deep stock of integrity, which even eight years of the Bush administration will not erode away. Yet Congress, in particular, should be doing much more to defend them from White House interference. And researchers should stand up and be counted with colleagues in the federal government in their hour of need."


Anonymous said...

Bush is attempting to suppress scientific findings that do not suit his ends. He has also tried to twist results to further his agenda. Another example of the egomaniacal approach of the Bush/Cheney/ Rumsfeld gang!

Anonymous said...

Another example of the Bush agenda gone mad.