Prominent Scientists Criticize Bush Administration for Suppressing, Distorting Science, Including Condom, Sex Education Data
A group of 60 "leading" scientists in a statement released on Wednesday criticized the Bush administration for "frequently suppressing or distorting" scientific analyses from federal agencies -- including information on condoms and abortion -- when the data disagree with administration policies, the Los Angeles Times reports (Shogren, Los Angeles Times, 2/19). The allegations were discussed in a conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, which also issued a 38-page report detailing the group's accusations (Glanz, New York Times, 2/19). Although the report, titled "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science," does "not uncover new episodes of alleged tampering," it offers previously unknown details, the Baltimore Sun reports (Kohn, Baltimore Sun, 2/19).
The report includes charges that the administration "manipulated" scientific findings on mercury emissions from power plants and "suppressed" information on condom use, according to the New York Times (New York Times, 2/19). For example, the report says that the Office of Management and Budget delayed a report that found high mercury levels in nearly one out of 10 women of childbearing age (Baltimore Sun, 2/19). That report, which documented the percentage of women who have mercury levels above that which the government considers safe for a fetus, remained under White House review for nine months and was made public only after an EPA official leaked it to the press, according to the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, 2/19). The scientists' report also says that the administration pressured CDC to end a project that found that sex education programs are effective "even if they did not insist on advocating an abstinence-only message," the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/19). In addition, the report claims that the administration replaced a CDC fact sheet detailing proper condom use with a "warning emphasizing condom failure rates," according to the Detroit Free Press (Borenstein, Detroit Free Press, 2/19). The information was revised to "raise doubts" about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV, the Los Angeles Times reports. In another example, information linking abortion and breast cancer was posted to the CDC Web site, despite objections from the agency's staff (Los Angeles Times, 2/19).
Reaction, Next Steps
"When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the scientists said in the statement (Vergano, USA Today, 2/19). The scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, also said that other administrations had, "on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front" (New York Times, 2/19). White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said that he had not seen the report, but he added that the Bush administration "makes decisions based on the best available science" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/19). White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger said, "The sweeping conclusions of the [UCS] statement go far beyond reasonable interpretations of the issues it recites" (Los Angeles Times, 2/19). He added, "In most cases, [the claims made in the report] are not profound actions that were taken as the result of a policy. They are individual actions that are part of the normal processes within the agencies" (New York Times, 2/19). Marburger also said, "I would like to improve people's understanding of the Bush administration on science, so I want to try to look deeper and understand myself where this is coming from" (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/19). In the statement, the group calls for congressional hearings to examine the issue and for a "renewed administration commitment" to public access to scientific information, according to the Washington Post (Gugliotta/Weiss, Washington Post, 2/19).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on the scientists' letter. The segment includes comments from Dr. Lynn Goldman, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health and former assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances during the Clinton administration; Dr. Neal Lane, former Clinton science adviser and former head of the National Science Foundation; former EPA Administrator Russell Train; HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce; and McClellan (Harris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/18). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.