Scientists group says Bush’s politics are trumping facts
Physicist Kurt Gottfried was so alarmed by misuses of science in 1969 that he helped create the Union of Concerned Scientists to place issues in the public spotlight and try to sway policy.For 35 years the union has weighed in on such meaty topics as global warming and worldwide nuclear arms proliferation. But nothing prepared it for the problem President Bush has presented over the past four years.Never since before the Enlightenment in the mid-18th century, when mankind embraced reasoning in intellectual matters, has science been held in such low regard by the country’s leaders, Gottfried claimed.”We are in danger of leaving the Age of Reason,” he said.Gottfried is one of the featured speakers at next month’s State of the World Conference in Aspen. He is a member of the board of directors of the Union of Concerned Scientists and an emeritus professor of physics at Cornell. The union brought its concerns to light earlier this year with a sharply worded report that claims the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is “unprecedented.”The report claims an investigation by the union showed scientific analyses was distorted or suppressed by federal agencies for political purposes. It further concluded that the administration imposes restrictions on what government scientists can say or write about “sensitive” topics.The Union of Concerned Scientists is far from a lunatic fringe environmental group. It is a well-staffed, well-respected organization that relies on research rather than hyperbole to state its cases.When its report criticizing the Bush administration was released, the union’s Web site provided examples where policy went counter to science on five major environmental issues, including forest management, eight public health issues and four national security issues.In each case, a summary of the report said, the administration undermined scientific integrity when “scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals.”On climate change, for example, the Bush administration has tried to deflect a mountain of scientific data by claiming that forecasts of global warming are too uncertain to warrant the action being demanded, according to Gottfried. The administration wants to discredit the science and confuse the public on the issue to justify avoiding steps to deal with it, he said. A letter of protest over the alleged practices outlined in the union’s report was sent to the White House. It was signed by 60 of the leading scientists in the country, including 20 Nobel Laureates.The administration dismissed the claims as political in nature. Gottfried said the union has been nonpartisan throughout its history – giving credit when due to Democrat and Republican administrations, and doling out criticism on specific science-related topics when it felt it was necessary, regardless of the president’s party affiliation.”We do our best to not be labeled,” Gottfried said.He said some scientists affiliated with the union worked for prior presidential administrations and never experienced anything close to this level of scientific manipulation.Gottfried noted that Republicans are responsible for many environmental programs, like former President Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. He said he wasn’t aware of any charges that the first Bush administration twisted science in the name of politics.The union’s letter garnered “more notice than expected and surprisingly little criticism,” Gottfried said. Raising a scientific topic often is an invitation for debate, he said, but no one outside the administration has taken issue with the claims in the letter of protest.”There is no criticism for what we’re doing from within the scientific community,” Gottfried said.The report and letter, as well as a case-by-case analysis supporting the findings, can be found on the union’s Web site: http://www.ucsusa.org.The fifth annual State of the World Conference, presented by the John McBride family’s Sopris Foundation, will be held July 9-11 in Aspen. The conference, entitled “Creative Minds Address a Broken World,” is designed to challenge experts in areas like energy, counterterrorism and environmental sciences to propose solutions to pressing problems.Registration to the conference and additional details can be found on the Web at http://www.soprisfoundation.org.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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