Time to end the Republican war on science

WASHINGTON — “The Republican War on Science,” a best-selling book by Chris Mooney, exposes the multipronged offensive by the Bush-Cheney administration and the Republican Party to twist science to their right-wing agenda..

These modern-day “Know Nothings” rail against climate experts, branding their warnings of global warming as “unproven science.” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who has served Big Oil in the House loyally for 11 terms, even threatened a witch-hunt investigation of climate scientists for their subversive report that high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are pushing global temperatures to dangerous new highs.

The Bush administration virtually banished any mention of that study as well as a similar study produced during the Clinton administration, the National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. This fanatic state of denial includes Bush’s mendacious claim that measures to reduce greenhouse emissions will cost 5 million jobs. The United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, in their Blue-Green Alliance, argue that the opposite is the case: conversion of our nation’s economy to sustainable forms of energy will create millions of new good-paying jobs.

Yes, it is hotter

The White House suffered a big setback June 22. The National Academy of Sciences released a report that day confirming the accuracy of the earlier reports on global warming. Planet Earth is hotter than it has been in 400 years, the report said, and likely hotter than anytime in the past 2,000 years.

Dr. Ian Kraucunas, director of the NAS team that produced the report, told the World, “This study corroborates the findings” of the climate scientists’ study. “There is sufficient evidence from tree rings, bore holes, retreating glaciers and other ‘proxies’ to say with a high level of confidence that global warming is occurring in response to human activity.”

Al Gore’s hit film “An Inconvenient Truth” is packing theaters across the nation with millions of viewers, who come away with new awareness that global warming poses an immediate threat to civilization, and it is time for drastic measures to curb greenhouse emissions. One clear message is the need to break the stranglehold the big oil corporations have on the federal government.

A new low

The far-right war on science reached a new low with Bush’s veto of a bill to dramatically expand embryonic stem cell research.

The House was unable to override Bush’s veto, his first since he took office. It proved that the House is still dominated by the backward ideology of Tom DeLay, the Texas cockroach exterminator, who recently proclaimed that an “embryo is a person.”

Dr. Mark S. Frankel, director of the Project on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, pointed out that millions of people are suffering from degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, who have no hope of recovery.

“Stem cell research is a revolutionary way of practicing medicine,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is regenerate cells in the body either by replacing them with new cells or combining them with parts of the body. It holds great promise, eventually, of providing cures for these diseases.”

Bush’s veto “is going to be an issue in some of the congressional races in 2006,” Frankel continued. “If this election changes the composition of the House and Senate, it could make it easier to override a veto.”

Battle in the schools

Asked if the Bush administration and the Republican right are waging “war on science,” Frankel replied, “We certainly have forces who feel threatened by science. They fear science and want to put science in a bad light because they see it as a threat to their values, whether it is evolution or stem cell research.”

The same right-wing forces have bankrolled a slick campaign to smuggle “creationism,” peddled as “intelligent design,” into the nation’s high school biology classes.

But advocates of science are fighting back. Frankel cited a recent school board election in Dover, Pa., in which proponents of the teaching of evolution ousted a school board that had imposed creationism in the public schools. “In recent years, we’ve made some inroads,” he said. “It is the result of coalitions at the local level of high school biology teachers, parents, and organizations like the AAAS that advocate science. This struggle is not over and will continue.”

Hot issue in Show-Me State

Stem cell research is emerging as a crucial issue in Missouri where incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent opposes the Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. A poll by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed 62 percent of voters favoring the pro-stem-cell-research ballot question and only 35 percent opposed. Ballot Watch ’06 fingered Talent as “one of the most endangered incumbents” in the Senate partly because of his reactionary stand on the issue. He faces State Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who has built a strong statewide following after losing a close race for governor two years ago. A Post-Dispatch poll has her beating Talent 49 percent to 43 percent.

Space wars

This February, the White House altered NASA’s mission statement, deleting the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet,” The New York Times reported July 22.

In the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the agency in 1958, the first objective of NASA was stated as “the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”

Several NASA researchers told the Times they were upset that the change was made without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.

Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the change might reflect White House eagerness to shift the spotlight away from global warming.

Silencing scientists

Anger is rising that this White House not only is hostile to science but increasingly resorts to bullyboy tactics to silence scientists who disagree with them. Hansen, a climate scientist, said last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

He told an audience in 2004, “In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now.”

The Bush administration accepts only scientific results that “fit predetermined and inflexible positions,” Hansen continued. “This I believe is a recipe for environmental disaster.”

Hansen told the crowd he was delivering a talk on the human, or anthropogenic, causes of global warming to NASA officials one day. Sean O’Keefe, NASA’s director at the time, interrupted him and “told me that I should not talk about dangerous anthropogenic interference because we do not know enough or have enough evidence” to prove that use of fossil fuels is causing the earth’s temperature to rise.

While O’Keefe denies having said these words to Hansen,
and maintains that several others present at the meeting
also have no recollection of such words, Hansen has stuck by
his story.

Philip Cooney served on the White House Council on Environmental Quality where his job was to censor government reports by deleting references to global warming. Outrage reached a point where Cooney was forced to resign.

He was hired immediately by Exxon Mobil. Democratic Party chair Howard Dean commented, “This is just one more example of how the Bush White House is bought and sold by the very industries it is supposed to regulate.”

Drug safety endangered

These tactics have reached the breaking point at the Food and Drug Administration. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) jointly released a survey July 20, which found that of the 997 FDA scientists who responded, nearly one-fifth said they had been asked “to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or their conclusions in an FDA scientific document.”

The survey found that 61 percent of respondents knew of cases in which “Department of Health and Human Services or FDA political appointees have inappropriately injected themselves into FDA determinations or actions.”

Dr. Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program, pointed out that FDA scientists conduct scientific tests to insure the safety of prescription drugs and medical devices, and the purity of the nation’s food supply. “Science must be the driving force for decisions made at the FDA,” she said. “These disturbing survey results make it clear that inappropriate interference is putting people in harm’s way.”

Michael Halpern, the program’s outreach coordinator, told the World, “We think these scientists need stronger whistleblower protections to protect them from the intimidation they face. They can be fired if they don’t do as they are told.” The survey found that 40 percent of the scientists feel “uncomfortable discussing their concerns on issues of public health for fear of retaliation. We’ve seen a number of cases recently where there was an irregularity in the drug approval process or monitoring of a prescription drug after it was approved for the market.”

Scientists fighting back

Halpern said 9,000 scientists have signed UCS’s statement, “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking.” The statement warns, “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process,” by such tactics as “placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; disbanding existing advisory committees; censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice.”

The statement cites Bush’s “invalid claim that Iraq has sought to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment centrifuges” while ignoring “the contrary assessment by experts at Livermore, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.”

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch told the World the “root” of the administration’s war on science is profits for the pharmaceutical corporations and other profit-driven enterprises. Ruch cited the case of FDA drug safety official David Graham, who “found his job truncated,” and has “been isolated and knocked off his career path because he blew the whistle on Vioxx.”

The whistleblower law as currently written limits whistleblowing to “a violation of law, rules, a ‘gross waste of funds’ or an ‘imminent threat to public health or safety,’” Ruch said. “A number of issues concerning scientists and their careers are not covered by that definition.”

He continued, “And thanks to Justice Samuel Alito, in a 5 to 4 Supreme Court ruling, government workers no longer enjoy First Amendment Freedom of Speech protection when they speak as a government employee.” Congress, he said, should enact a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) titled “The Scientific Integrity Act” to expand and extend whistleblower protection to scientists. Action on this and a long list of other pro-science measures awaits a new, more enlightened Congress, Ruch said.

Reality-based community

Early in his book, Mooney cites the White House official who condescendingly told journalist Ron Suskind that “guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’” When Suskind “murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism,” the official “cut me off. ‘That’s not the way it really works any more …. We’re an empire now and when we act, we create our own reality.’”

The Bush-Cheney rejection of science in favor of brazen falsehood, deception, spin and delusions of global domination are creating a nightmare. More and more people are saying it is time to wake up and face reality. Our first real opportunity is casting our ballots Nov. 7 to end the nightmare.

Tim Wheeler (greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com) is national political correspondent for the People’s Weekly World.

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