Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Science Friction

Guess what. President Bush really doesn't like scientists, especially if they don't happen tell him what he wants to hear.

The article by Nicholas Thompson in the Washington Monthly talks about the Bush Administration's politicization of the science. And it's not just Bush. It's the Republicans in general. It all brings back fond memories of the OSHA ergonomics hearings in 2000 when the Republican-led House of Representatives questioned and harrassed the scientific experts who testified for OSHA in favor of the standard, alleging that they had been improperly influenced by OSHA because they were paid a stipend for their work. (Which, by the way, has been common practice during OSHA hearings in both Democratic and Republican Administrations.)

In fact, the Republicans were so full of respect for science that they commissioned not one, but two National Academy of Sciences literature reviews in an effort to stall OSHA's rulemaking until a possible Bush Administration could stop the rulemaking. "Wait for the science" was the Republican refrain. They kept it up even after both studies came back strongly supporting the connection between working conditions and musculoskeletal injuries, anchoring their refrain on the NAS's endorsement of additional research. (Has anyone ever seen a scientific study that didn't call for more research?)

But I digress. Back to the article. No one ever accused the Republicans of not being able to hold a grudge:
The administration has stacked hitherto apolitical scientific advisory committees, and even an ergonomics study section, which is just a research group and has no policy making role.

Ergonomics became a politicized issue early in Bush's term when he overturned a Clinton-era rule requiring companies to do more to protect workers from carpal tunnel syndrome and other similar injuries. Late last year, the Department of Health and Human Services rejected, without explanation, three nominees for the Safety and Occupational Health Study Section who had already been approved by Dana Loomis, the group's chair, but who also weren't clearly aligned with the administration's position on ergonomics. Loomis then wrote a letter saying that "The Secretary's office declined to give reasons for its decision, but they seem ominously clear in at least one case: one of the rejected nominees is an expert in ergonomics who has publicly supported a workplace ergonomics standard." Another nominee, who was accepted, said that she had been called by an HHS official who wanted to know her views on ergonomics before allowing her on the panel.

The administration has further used these committees as places for religious conservatives whose political credentials are stronger than their research ones. For example, on Christmas Eve 2002, Bush appointed David Hager--a highly controversial doctor who has written that women should use prayer to reduce the symptoms of PMS--to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Commission.

Bush has also taken to unprecedented levels the political vetting of nominees for advisory committees. When William Miller, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, was considered as a candidate for a panel on the National Institute of Drug Abuse, he was asked his views on abortion, the death penalty, and whether he had voted for Bush. He said no to the last question and never received a call back. "Not only does the Bush administration scorn science; it is subjecting appointments to scientific advisory committees and even study sections to political tests," says Donald Kennedy, editor in chief of Science, the community's flagship publication.
You get the idea. Read the article. It's chilling.