Sunday, August 07, 2005


By William Fisher

Hooray, a win for science!

At last, there is something nice I can say about John H. Marburger III, President Bush's science advisor.

It’s about time. I have usually found myself being critical of Dr. Marburger for either being complicit or remaining silent as the Bush White House adopts anti-science policies or spins science to pander to the President’s base of right wing religious fanatics.

I have disagreed with him on issues ranging from sex education (sex education should teach “abstinence only” and not include information on other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy) to condom use (changing the posting on the website of the Centers for Disease Control to replace a comprehensive fact sheet on condoms with one emphasizing condom failure rates) to environmental protection (adding so many hedges to the climate change section of the EPA's report card on the environment that former administrator Christie Whitman deleted the section rather than publish one that was so scientifically inaccurate) to breast cancer (suggesting that women should be “counselled” about an alleged risk of breast cancer from abortions, while there is scientific consensus that no such link exists).

But after the commander in chief put his foot in his mouth last week by telling reporters that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution, Dr. Marburger was busily doing damage control.

He told the New York Times that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept."

But being a good team player, Dr. Marburger went on to say that Mr. Bush's remarks should be interpreted to mean that the president believes that intelligent design should be discussed as part of the "social context" in science classes.

Social context? What is social context doing in a science class? Maybe in sociology, or comparative religion or anthropology, but in science classes?

I must confess to a certain sympathy for Dr. Marburger, however. I can’t think of a worse job for a scientist than trying to bring science to George W. Bush.

The reason has been clear for a long time. Science is about facts, and our President doesn’t care about facts. Ideology trumps every time – whether the subject is reproductive rights, HIV-AIDS, missile defense, prisoner abuse, social security, stem cells, or going to war.

I could almost be more forgiving if what we hear from George W. Bush was merely government spin. We’re used to that. We sort of expect it from our politicians, and we can deal with it.

What I find far more troubling is that the mythologies and half-truths coming out of the White House are what the media now politely refers to as ‘deeply held beliefs’. Like basing foreign policy on looking into President Putin’s soul!

Transparency notwithstanding, I almost think I’d prefer secrecy.