Scientists Say White House Bends Research to Policy

Article excerpt

"Sound science" is a Bush administration phrase that has, until recently, largely evaded mainstream pundits. The president and his administration, however, have insisted since first taking office that sound science is the foundation on which rests a growing list of often-controversial policies.

With what is already a tight presidential race underway, the Bush administration's handling of scientific information in policymaking--from climate change to condom use--is surfacing as a critical issue.

Earlier this year, an open letter signed by 62 prominent U.S. scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and a handful of science advisers to past Republican presidents, accused the administration of sifting scientific data through a political screen and of bending government agencies to conform with White House policy.

"Although scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions," the letter opens, "this input should always be weighed from an objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous consequences." The group said the Bush administration has "disregarded this principle."

"When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals," the letter asserted, "the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions."

The letter was issued by the left-leaning Union of Concerned Scientists, a science and science policy think-tank best known for its work on nuclear proliferation and a host of environmental concerns.

Dr. Kurt Gottfried, chair of the union, calls the letter "unprecedented." Critics call it partisan politics.

But many of the signers had no affiliation with the organization and are not all pre-disposed adversaries of the sitting administration. Speaking at the National Press Club recently, the world-renowned sociobiologist E.O. Wilson defended his signature on the letter while remembering President Bush's 2000 campaign as "inspiring."

And for at least one signer, Harvard professor of science and public policy and former adviser to the Nixon White House Lewis Brandscomb, signing this letter of protest was a first.

Buttressing the letter's assertions was a 46-page report released simultaneously by Union of Concerned Scientists detailing what it calls the "suppression and distortion of research findings at federal agencies," and the undermining of the "quality and integrity of the appointment process." (See accompanying article.)

"A growing number of scientists, policy makers and technical specialists both inside and outside the government," the report claims, "allege that the current Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy.... The quality and breadth of these charges warrant further examination, especially given the stature of many of the individuals lodging them."

While drawing some of its information from interviews with current and former government scientists; the union report leans heavily on media investigations. …