What started as a group of 62 scientists fighting what they saw as Bad Science being practiced by the Bush administration has now bloated to a body with more than 4,000 whitecoats calling for change.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), in a new report, has again expressed its feeling of "embarrassment and disgust" over the way the Bush administration uses - or misuses - science when making policy decisions. The scientists have found that the administration often ignores the recommendations of advisory panels and "suppresses, distorts and manipulates" scientific work. In particular, the group is concerned about Bad Science affecting environment, emergency contraception and endangered species policies .
UCS issued a previous complaint in February with 62 signatures but has amassed over 4,000 signatures for its latest report released this month. The signers include 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The actions by the Bush administration threaten to undermine the morale and compromise the integrity of scientists working for and advising America’s world-class governmental research institutions and agencies," UCS said. "Not only does the public expect and deserve government to provide it with accurate information, the government has a responsibility to ensure that policy decisions are not based on intentionally or knowingly flawed science. To do so carries serious implications for the health, safety, and environment of all Americans."
To its credit, UCS has laid out specific instances where it believe the Bush administration ignored science - the first being an environmental impact statement (EIS) on mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. As it turns out, the removal of mountain ridges to reveal coal punishes the environment near the mines.
"Scientists working for various federal agencies have documented a wide range of enormously destructive environmental impacts from this mining technique," the UCS said. "More than 7 percent of Appalachian forests have been cut down and more than 1,200 miles of streams across the region have been buried or polluted between 1985 and 2001.
"According to the federal government’s scientific analysis, mountaintop removal mining, if it continues unabated, will cause a projected loss of more than 1.4 million acres by the end of the next decade - an area the size of Delaware - with a concomitant, severe impact on fish, wildlife, and bird species, not to mention a devastating effect on many neighboring communities."
The EIS presented by scientists had over 5,000 pages detailing the destructive nature of this type of mining. The Bush administration, however, "softened" the report by ordering words such as "significant" and "severe" to be excised from the documents and by massaging economic data. Scientists were politely told that the EIS "was going to be taken in a different direction."
A number of scientists complained that no alternative to mountaintop removal mining was even considered when that is supposed to be part of any EIS.
UCS is also upset by an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) official's decision to ban "Plan B" - a drug for preventing pregnancy up to 72 hours after sex - from being prescribed.
"In the case, Steven Galson, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, acknowledged to reporters recently that he overturned the recommendations of his own staff and two FDA advisory panels in declaring the drug “not approvable” for nonprescription status," said UCS. "A joint meeting of two independent FDA scientific advisory committees voted 23 to 4 in December 2003 to recommend the emergency contraceptive as an over-the-counter drug. The panel also voted unanimously that the drug could be safely sold over the counter."
Overwhelming testimony by doctors pointed to the drug being safe and effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies.
"Nonetheless, Dr. Galson broke with agency protocol by overruling FDA staff scientists who had concluded that this drug met FDA criteria for nonprescription status and overwhelmingly recommended the switch," UCS said. "In overruling his staff and the advisory committee, Galson offered no substantial new evidence, and took the unusual step of writing the official response to the drug company himself."
At least you can't accuse Bush of bowing to the pharmaceutical industry here.
On the subject of endangered species, UCS is particularly concerned with the Bush administration's salmon policy. A number of scientists have argued that wild fish and hatchery fish should be kept separate when counting the population of a particular species. This seems to make sense - best to gauge the success of a population by looking at it in the wild rather than in a petri dish. Ah, but no fast.
"The development of a new Bush administration policy on hatchery fish was overseen by Mark Rutzick, who early in 2003 was appointed by President Bush as special adviser to the NOAA General Counsel," UCS said. "Previously, Rutzick served as a lawyer for the timber industry and was a strong opponent of fish and wildlife protections that logging companies viewed as overly restrictive. Rutzick first proposed the strategy of including hatchery fish in population counts for endangered salmon while he worked on behalf of timber interests."
After taking some criticism over Rutzick, the Bush administration did make some changes to its proposed hatchery policy but still a number of population counts combine wild and hatchery fish for certain species.
The UCS report points out several other instances where Bush's endangered species policies resemble those of a nineteenth-century fur trader. The report also documents a number of scientists complaining that they were asked who they had voted for in the Presidential elections when being interviewed for various scientific panels.
In total, UCS called for the Bush administration to have a much more open, investigative approach to scientific matters. Something along the the lines of actually considering the evidence presented. ®