Wednesday, March 03, 2004


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By William Fisher

If you think WMD is the only information being manipulated by the Bush Administration, have a look at what they’re doing to taxpayer-funded science.

A report commissioned by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) charges that the Bush Administration has routinely edited reports, deleted reports, ignored reports, hidden reports on shelves, provided inaccurate responses to Congress, altered web sites, issued erroneous international communications, and gagged scientists. More than 60 Nobel laureates, winners of the National Medal of Science, heads of leading universities and biomedical research institutes, and former presidential science advisers, have called on Congress to investigate. Here are some examples:

Abstinence education, where the Administration has changed sex education performance measures to produce the appearance that scientific evidence supports abstinence-only programs. President Bush has consistently supported the view that sex education should teach “abstinence only” and not include information on other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Until recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) initiative called “Programs That Work” identified sex education programs that have been found to be effective in scientific studies and provided this information through its web site. In 2002, all five “Programs That Work” provided comprehensive sex education to teenagers, and none were “abstinence-only.” CDC has now ended this initiative and erased information about these proven sex education programs from its web site.

Condom use, HIV / AIDS Policies and Research, where information about condom use and efficacy was deleted from CDC web site. The CDC replaced a comprehensive fact sheet on condoms with one that emphasizes condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence. A revised fact sheet begins by emphasizing condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence.

Stem Cell Research, where, in banning federal funding for research on new stem cell lines, President Bush stated that “more than 60 genetically diverse" lines were available for potential research. Soon thereafter, HHS Secretary Thompson acknowledged that the correct number was only about 24 to 25. Still later, NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni told Congress that only 11 stem cell lines were widely available to researchers.

Global warming, where reports by the Environmental Protection Agency on the risks of climate change were suppressed; The White House added so many hedges to the climate change section of the EPA's report card on the environment last spring that former administrator Christie Whitman deleted the section rather than publish one that was so scientifically inaccurate.

Missile defense, where Defense Department officials presented misleading information on whether a functional system could be quickly deployed. Under Secretary of Defense Edward Aldridge told a Senate panel that by the end of 2004, the system would be 90% effective in intercepting missiles from the Korean peninsula. In April 2003, the General Accounting Office found the President’s plan unworkable and even dangerous. Under Secretary Aldridge’s claim of 90% effectiveness “is not supported by any publicly available evidence, and it appears not to comport with the Pentagon’s own classified estimates.”

Wetlands policy, where comments from scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service on the destructive impacts of proposed regulatory changes were withheld. Scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Interior Department, had prepared such an analysis showing that the new Corps proposal would “encourage the destruction of stream channels and lead to increased loss of aquatic functions.” Interior Secretary Norton, however, failed to submit the scientists’ comments to the Corps. The Corps subsequently issued rules that weakened key wetland protections.

Abortion and breast cancer, where social conservatives campaigned to require women to be “counseled” about an alleged risk of breast cancer from abortions, the National Cancer Institute revised its web site to suggest that studies of equal weight conflicted on the question. In fact, there is scientific consensus that no such link exists.

The Waxman Report also charges that the Bush Administration is manipulating Scientific Advisory Committees to advance its political and ideological agenda. Examples include:

Appointing unqualified persons with industry ties. After dropping three national experts in lead poisoning from the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services appointed several individuals with ties to the lead industry, including a lead industry consultant who had testified that a lead level seven times the current limit is safe for children’s brains.

Appointing unqualified persons with ideological agendas. The Department of Health and Human Services nominated to the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drug Advisory Committee an anti-abortion activist, Dr. David Hager, who recommends that women read the bible for relief of premenstrual symptoms. The appointee’s principal credential appears to be his opposition to the “morning after” birth control pill, RU-486.

Stacking advisory committees. The Department of Health and Human Services replaced 15 of 18 members of the key advisory committee to the National Center on Environmental Health. Several of the new members were long-time industry consultants. The Bush Administration appointed a prominent advocate of abstinence-only programs to the Advisory Committee to the CDC’s Director.

Opposing qualified experts. The Department of Health and Human Services rejected a widely respected expert’s nomination to a grant review panel on workplace safety after it became clear that she supported rules to protect workers from musculoskeletal injuries, rules that the Bush Administration opposes. The head of the panel called the rejection “directly opposed to the philosophy of peer review, which is supposed to be nonpolitical and transparent.”

Are we to believe that all of the above are disconnected and isolated coincidences? Such is the contention of the Bush Administration, though Bush science adviser John H. Marburger does admit to "a disconnect between the administration and the science community."

Thirteen years ago, former President George H.W. Bush stated that “now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research . . . government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance.” It’s time he had a talk with his son.