Scientists Say Administration Distorts Facts
By JAMES GLANZ
New York Times - February 19, 2004
More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement yesterday asserting that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad.
The sweeping accusations were later discussed in a conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent organization that focuses on technical issues and has often taken stands at odds with administration policy. On Wednesday, the organization also issued a 38-page report detailing its accusations.
The two documents accuse the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases.
"Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systemically nor on so wide a front," the statement from the scientists said, adding that they believed the administration had "misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies."
Dr. Kurt Gottfried, an emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University who signed the statement and spoke during the conference call, said the administration had "engaged in practices that are in conflict with spirit of science and the scientific method." Dr. Gottfried, who is also chairman of the board of directors at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the administration had a "cavalier attitude towards science" that could place at risk the basis for the nation's long-term prosperity, health and military prowess.
Dr. John H. Marburger III, science adviser to President Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, said it was important to listen to "the distinguished scientific leadership in this country." But he said the report consisted of a largely disconnected list of events that did not make the case for a suppression of good scientific advice by the administration.
"I think there are incidents where people have got their feathers ruffled," Dr. Marburger said. "But I don't think they add up to a big pattern of disrespect."
"In most cases," he added, "these 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."
The science adviser to Mr. Bush's father, Dr. D. Allan Bromley, went further. "You know perfectly well that it is very clearly a politically motivated statement," said Dr. Bromley, a physicist at Yale. "The statements that are there are broad sweeping generalizations for which there is very little detailed backup."
The scientists denied that they had political motives in releasing the documents as the 2004 presidential race began to take clear shape. The report, Dr. Gottfried said, had taken a year to prepare, much longer than originally planned, and was released as soon as it was ready.
"I don't see it as a partisan issue at all," said Russell Train, who spoke during the call and served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. "If it becomes that way I think it's because the White House chooses to make it a partisan issue."
The letter was signed by luminaries from an array of disciplines. Among the Nobel winners are David Baltimore and Harold Varmus, both biomedical researchers, and Leon M. Lederman, Norman F. Ramsey and Steven Weinberg, who are physicists. The full list of signatories and the union's report can be found at www.ucsusa.org.
Aside from some new interviews with current and former government scientists, some identified in the report and others quoted anonymously, most of the information in the documents had been reported previously by a variety of major newspapers, magazines, scientific journals and nongovernmental organizations.
According to the report, the Bush administration has misrepresented scientific consensus on global warming, censored at least one report on climate change, manipulated scientific findings on the emissions of mercury from power plants and suppressed information on condom use.
The report asserts that the administration also allowed industries with conflicts of interest to influence technical advisory committees, disbanded for political reasons one panel on arms control and subjected other prospective members of scientific panels to political litmus tests.
Dr. Marburger said he was unconvinced by the report's description of those incidents. "I don't think it makes the case for the sweeping accusations that it makes," he said.
But Dr. Sidney Drell, an emeritus professor of physics at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who was not a signatory to the statement, said the overall findings rang true to him.
"I am concerned that the scientific advice coming into this administration seems to me very narrow," said Dr. Drell, who has advised the government on issues of national security for some 40 years and has served in Democratic and Republican administrations, including those of Presidents Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson. "The input from individuals whose views are not in the main line of their policy don't seem to be sought or welcomed," he said.
The original Text of Union of Concerned Scientists