Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Bush Administration's Scientific Argument: "Do You Support the President?"

The New York Times writes about the science wars of the Bush administration in which scientists from Nobel laureates to former administration officials accuse the Bush administration of putting politics over science saying that the administration "has selected or suppressed research findings to suit preset policies, skewed advisory panels or ignored unwelcome advice, and quashed discussion within federal research agencies." The administration's science policies have come under attack by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Democrats, environmental groups, and 48 Nobel laureates who endorsed Senator John Kerry.
"Unlike previous administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, the Bush administration has ignored unbiased scientific advice in the policy making that is so important to our collective welfare," they wrote. The critics include members of past Republican administrations.
The article focuses primarily on the administration's repeated rejection of the best scientific evidence on global warming, but "no science" was one of the key myths used by Republicans and the business community to kill the ergonomics standard, and science arguments are still being used an an excuse not to develop a new standard. Early in thr Bush administration, Dr. Laura Punnett, an ergonomics expert and professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, was rejected by the Bush Administration as a member of NIOSH's study section that provides peer review of applications for research grants to study workplace injuries. She had been nominated by the Director of NIOSH, but had also been an OSHA witness testifying in favor of the ergonomics standard. Dr. Punnett said upon her rejection, "I think it conveys very powerfully that part of the goal is to intimidate researchers and limit what research questions are asked.”

Things haven't gotten much better.
Earlier this year, after continuing complaints that the White House was asking litmus-test questions of nominees for scientific advisory panels, the first question asked of a candidate for a panel on Arctic issues, the candidate said, was: "Do you support the president?"
One example of the evidence that politics takes precidence over science:
On Aug. 14, 2003, a news release summarizing July temperature patterns began as a draft with this headline: "NOAA reports record and near-record July heat in the West, cooler than average in the East, global temperature much warmer than average."

When it emerged from NOAA headquarters, it read: "NOAA reports cooler, wetter than average in the East, hot in the West."
Most infuriating, however, is the way in which administration officials dismiss the criticism:
Administration officials see some of the criticism as partisan, and some perhaps a function of unrealistic expectations on the part of scientists about their role in policy debates. "This administration really does not like regulation and it believes in market processes in general," said Dr. John H. Marburger III, the president's science adviser, who is a Democrat.

"So there's always going to be a tilt in an administration like this one to a certain set of actions that you take to achieve some policy objective,"
he went on. "In general, science may give you some limits and tell you some boundary conditions on that set of actions, but it really doesn't tell you what to do."

Dr. Jesse H. Ausubel, an expert on energy and climate at Rockefeller University, said some of the bitterness expressed by other researchers could stem from their being excluded from policy circles that were open to them under previous administrations. "So these people who believe themselves important feel themselves belittled," he said.
So according to Marburger, because the administration doesn't like regulation, it's OK to bend tilt the evidence to suit their deregulatory purposes.

And as for Ausubel, who blames the controversy on sour grapes, Nick Confessore in Tapped has some interesting information:

Asubel is a more interesting case, and the author of the Times piece, the estimable Andrew Revkin, should have explained who he is: A leading skeptic of climate change who is active in the Cooler Heads Coalition, an Astroturf group funded by industries opposed to regulation of CO2 emissions. Bush's policy on global warming rests in part on using skeptics like Ausubel to argue that, in fact, global warming ain't so bad, even if the vast majority of climate scientists are in agreement that it's a real problem. Under an administration that more or less respects scientific consensus and tries to base its policies to the greatest extent possible on empirical reality, someone like Asubel is a marginal figure. Under an administration like the current one, his dissenting views, subsidized by corporations hoping to evade further regulation, become very useful. So you can see why he'd cast his colleagues who are critical of Bush as merely jealous of their lost access.

More commentary on this article by Chris Mooney.