Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Repulician War on Science

It was that the Bush Administration, in pushing its side of the debate, falsified the scientific evidence regarding the feasibility of stem cell research under the rather bizarre compromise policy it pursued (for more of the details, see Stem Cell Century by Russell Korobkin. This was, and remains, Standard Operating Procedure for Republicans on all topics - science is just another arena for political debate, in which reality is what you make it.

Science has never been more crucial to deciding the political issues facing the country.
Dir: Books Yet science and scientists have less influence with the federal government than at any time since the Eisenhower administration. In the White House and Congress today, findings are reported in a politicized manner; spun or distorted to fit the speaker’s agenda; or, when they’re too inconvenient, ignored entirely. On a broad array of issues stem cell research, climate change, abstinence education, mercury pollution, and many others the Bush administration’s positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus.
In The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney tied together the disparate strands of the attack on science into a compelling and frightening account of our government’s increasing unwillingness to distinguish between legitimate research and ideologically driven pseudoscience.

America is already known across the world for having an irrational disdain for science. Not to mention the fact that our country produces so few scientists of its own, we’ve depended on foreign-born scientists to help as along our treasured road of progress for decades. Isn’t it ironic that, despite all of the ‘progress must continue’, ‘don’t take away our technology’ anti-global warming talk, our leaders look down their noses at those who produce this technology?

The past seven and a half years under Bush have made the situation (as with many other situations – really, can we name one thing he actually improved?) much worse. The ‘war on terror’ has produced a convenient cover for the Bush administration to attack foreign-born scientists.

The Huffington Post quotes William A. Wulf, Ph.D., president of the National Academy of Engineering:

Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of Ph.D. scientists and engineers employed in the United States who were born abroad has increased from 24% to 37%. The current percentage of Ph.D. physicists is about 45%; for engineers, the figure is over 50%. One fourth of the engineering faculty members at U.S. universities were born abroad. Between 1990 and 2004, over one third of Nobel Prizes in the United States were awarded to foreign-born scientists. One third of all U.S. Ph.D’s in science and engineering are now awarded to foreign born graduate students. We have been skimming the best and brightest minds from across the globe, and prospering because of it; we need these new Americans even more now as other countries become more technologically capable.

Dr. Moniem El-Ganayni is one of the scientists you’d think America would want to hold on to. The nuclear physicist has been an American citizen for 20 years and worked at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory – that is, until his security clearance was revoked. The reason? He’s an Egyptian-born Muslim. Dr. El-Ganayni’s efforts to get his clearance back have been fruitless, and he thinks he’ll have to move back to Egypt with his American-born wife.

The decision to revoke Dr. El-Ganayni’s clearance without holding a hearing was made by acting Deputy Secretary of Energy Jeffrey F. Kupfer, a Bush administration insider …. [who] certified that the appeals process set forth in DOE regulations “cannot be made available … without damaging the interests of national security by revealing classified information. …

Furthermore, he stated, his decision is “conclusive,” meaning the matter is officially closed.

Related Posts:

The Dumbing Down of America Under Bush
Fallujah Doctors Claim Increased Deformities in Babies After ‘Special Weaponry’ Used by US
U.S. Stops Solar Energy Projects Over ‘Environment Fears’
White House Buries Report on Possible Climate Change Death Toll
White House Suppressed EPA Report on Car Emissions

The Republican war on science is systematic and multi-faceted and very difficult to keep up with.  One episode which recently came to my attention involves my favorite technical journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), which is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and best of all, is open access.  Now, more than ever, we need research on the risks from toxic substances in the environment, global climate change and other environmental health problems.  EHP is a high-quality provider of peer-reviewed research papers and articles for the general public on environmental health topics. Yet, the Bush Administration is trying to neuter this important source for environmental health information through privatization, outsourcing and budget cuts (the funding level is being cut to the same amount that the NIEHS director spent remodeling his office).  They don't like the news, so they're killing the messenger.

According to a post in the public health blog Effect Measure, the NIEHS originally attempted to privatize EHP and, when that move encountered strong resistance from the scientific community, has tried to outsource it's functions, and cut the journal's budget.

More of the story comes from the Society for Environmental Journalists.  In November 2006, the SEJ wrote NIEHS, expressing its disapproval of the agency's plans for the journal.  According to SEJ's newsletter:

Effect Measure picks up the story again....

According to a SEJ tip sheet published April 4, 2007, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, and full Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), have launched an investigation of the controversy over EHP.  On March 30, the committee wrote to David Schwartz, requesting by April 20, 2007 a wide range of documents related to the outsourcing of EHP and also to Schwartz's conduct as director of NIEHS. On April 9, 2007, Representatives Kucinich and Waxman wrote a letter to Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health requesting that the contracting for EHP be postponed until these irregularities have been resolved:

At the same time, budget cuts at EHP appear to be moving ahead.  According to the SEJ tip sheet Schwartz said he wanted to privatize EHP because its budget could be better spent on other things — especially research. The plan is to cut EHP's annual budget from over $3 million in 2005 down to about $500,000. That is about half of what Director Schwartz spent remodeling his office after he arrived at NIEHS — an office that had just been remodeled.

Some of the changes for EHP expected in coming months include:

  • Beginning with the May issue, EHP will reduce the number of features it runs monthly from three to two.
  • Schwartz will be removing his "Director's Perspective" column from the magazine and moving it to NIEHS' website. In his April column, he says the reason for doing this is to enhance the editorial independence of the magazine.
  • Time available for editing articles, especially research articles, has diminished with contract support. Further reductions may show in quality of content.
  • EHP is moving away from its longstanding practice of re-drawing figures submitted by research authors to make them easier to read and understand.
  • EHP has ceased publishing its Student Edition in print (it has gone to the Web), and will soon stop publishing lesson plans for its student edition.
  • The Chinese edition of EHP is no longer being subsidized by NIEHS. The Shanghai Center for Disease Control has paid the full cost for the last two issues, although it is not clear how long this will continue.
  • The "Extramural Update" and "NIEHS News" articles will no longer be published in the print edition. They will move to the Web.
  • The magazine will be cancelling free subscriptions to readers in developing countries.

In addition, staffing is being reduced, and the periodical suffers from the lack of a permanent managing editor.  The position of science editor also has been vacant for a year.

Last week, in his State of the Union address, the President pointed to scientific research as the way to "lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come." Yet growing numbers of researchers, both in and out of government, say their findings--on pollution, climate change, reproductive health, stem-cell research and other areas in which science often finds itself at odds with religious, ideological or corporate interests--are being discounted, distorted or quashed by Bush Administration appointees.

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him - New York Times

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s testimony has once again highlighted the extent to which the Bush administration suppresses and manipulates science to fit their narrow ideological view. Whether it’s stem cell research, global warming, the Plan B contraceptive, or abstinence-only education, they consistently put appeasing their extremist, fringe base over the interests of the country at large. CNN’s Christine Romans details the many battles in Bush’s War on Science.

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