Science, like any field of endeavor, relies on freedom of inquiry; and one of the hallmarks of that freedom is objectivity. Now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research to genetic engineering to food additives, government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance.
President George H.W. Bush, 19901
The U.S. government runs on information vast amounts of it. Researchers at the National Weather Service gather and analyze meteorological data to know when to issue severe-weather advisories. Specialists at the Federal Reserve Board collect and analyze economic data to determine when to raise or lower interest rates. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control examine bacteria and viral samples to guard against a large-scale outbreak of disease. The American public relies on the accuracy of such governmental data and upon the integrity of the researchers who gather and analyze it.
Equally important is the analysis of fact-based data in the government’s policy-making process. When compelling evidence suggests a threat to human health from a contaminant in the water supply, the federal government may move to tighten drinking water standards. When data indicate structural problems in aging bridges that are part of the interstate highway system, the federal government may allocate emergency repair funds. When populations of an animal species are found to be declining rapidly, officials may opt to seek protection for those animals under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Given the myriad pressing problems involving complex scientific informationfrom the AIDS pandemic to the threat of nuclear proliferation the American public expects government experts and researchers to provide more data and analysis than ever before, and to do so in an impartial and accurate way.
However, at a time when one might expect the federal government to increasingly rely on impartial researchers for the critical role they play in gathering and analyzing specialized data, there are numerous indications that the opposite is occurring. A growing number of scientists, policy makers, and technical specialists both inside and outside the government allege that the current Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy. In addition, these experts contend that irregularities in the appointment of scientific advisors and advisory panels are threatening to upset the legally mandated balance of these bodies.
The quantity and breadth of these charges warrant further examination, especially given the stature of many of the individuals lodging them. Toward this end, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) undertook an investigation of many of the allegations made in the mainstream media, in scientific journals, and in overview reports issued from within the federal government2 and by nongovernmental organizations.3 To determine the validity of the allegations, UCS reviewed the public record, obtained internal government documents, and conducted interviews with many of the parties involved (including current and former government officials).
1 Remarks to the National Academy of Sciences, April 23, 1990.
2 For instance, see House Committee on Government Reform, Minority Staff, Special Investigations Division, “Politics and Science in the Bush Administration,” August 2003.
3 For instance, see Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, “Preserving Core Values in Science,” 2003; Defenders of Wildlife, “Sabotaging the Endangered Species Act: How the Bush Administration uses the judicial system to undermine wildlife protection,” December 2003.
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