By William Fisher
More than a decade 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.”
The problem is he never told his son.
We know that from a multi-year series of findings that the administration of President George W. Bush has systematically manipulated science to comply with ideology – and satisfy the political agenda of his right-wing base.
The latest evidence of this scientific sleight-of-hand is contained in a report by the Government Accountability Office – the Congressionally-mandated oversight agency. GAO found that most abstinence-until-marriage education programs -- which receive about $158 million annually from the Department of Health and Human Services -- are not reviewed for scientific accuracy before they are granted funding.
“Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited," the GAO report states.
"This is because HHS's Administration for Children and Families (ACF) -- which awards grants to two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education -- does not review its grantees' education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy"
GAO auditors contacted 10 states that receive funding from ACF for their abstinence-until-marriage programs. It found that only half reviewed the programs for scientifically accurate data on contraception, sexually transmitted infections and other information.
The report also found that most state and federal efforts to assess the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs "do not meet the minimum scientific standards" that experts say are necessary to be scientifically valid.
The GAO report should not surprise us. 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.
And there are many other examples:
In an earlier action on abstinence education, the Administration changed sex education performance measures to produce the appearance that scientific evidence supports abstinence-only programs. It doesn’t.
Until recently, a Centers for Disease Control 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.” But the CDC later ended this initiative and deleted information about these proven sex education programs from its web site.
Information about condom use and efficacy was also deleted from the CDC web site. The CDC replaced a comprehensive fact sheet on condoms with one that emphasized condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence.
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, then-HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson acknowledged that the correct number was 24 to 25. Still later, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni told Congress that only 11 stem cell lines were widely available to researchers.
Global Warming reports by the Environmental Protection Agency on the risks of climate change have been suppressed. The White House added so many hedges to the climate change section of the EPA's report card on the environment that former administrator Christie Todd Whitman deleted the section rather than publish one that was scientifically inaccurate.
Defense Department officials presented misleading information on whether a functional Missile Defense System could be quickly deployed. An Under Secretary of Defense told a Senate panel that by the end of 2004, the system would be 90% effective in intercepting missiles from the Korean peninsula. But in April 2003, the GAO found the President’s plan unworkable and even dangerous. The Defense Department’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.”
Comments on Wetlands Policy from scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service on the destructive impacts of proposed regulatory changes have been withheld. Scientists at Service, part of the Interior Department, had prepared an analysis showing that a new proposal from the Army Corps of Engineers would “encourage the destruction of stream channels and lead to increased loss of aquatic functions.” But the Interior Secretary failed to submit the scientists’ comments to the Corps, which subsequently issued rules that weakened key wetland protections.
After 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.
A report commissioned by Congressman Henry Waxman of California charged that the Bush Administration is manipulating Scientific Advisory Committees to advance its political and ideological agenda. Examples include appointing unqualified persons with industry ties and ideological agendas, while opposing qualified experts.
The Bush Administration contends that these examples are isolated coincidences. Right!
These are legitimate subjects for Congressional oversight. But the Republican-controlled House and Senate have been A.W.O.L. on oversight and have effectively blocked virtually all Democratic efforts to investigate how our tax dollars get used.
Now that Democrats have won majorities – and subpoena power -- in both bodies, voters should hold the feet of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid so that the nation can distinguish truth from spin.