Don't confuse us with the factsDavid Hoppe
Last week, Congress passed legislation aimed at reforming how this country deals with what is called "intelligence." I looked that word, intelligence, up in the dictionary. This is what it said: "The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge." It's one thing to take the best information available and interpret it for the purposes of making policy. It's something else entirely to distort or suppress information before the policymaking can begin.
Now it would seem obvious that anything we can do to improve our capacity in this regard is a good thing. In this case, intelligence reform is expected to make our country safer. But our capacity to acquire and apply knowledge also includes our ability to improve health and prevent disease, protect the environment and make the kinds of discoveries that can lead to the development of new industries.
Intelligence, in other words, is like fuel. Our society runs on it. Without intelligence, we are helpless.
So it is shocking to learn about all the ways the Bush Administration is messing with our country's capacity to acquire and apply the knowledge we call science. A year ago, Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, prepared a report called "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration." The report details the ways science and scientists have been treated by Bush. It identifies over 20 scientific issues that have been affected.
It's one thing to take the best information available and interpret it for the purposes of making policy. It's something else entirely to distort or suppress information before the policymaking can begin. That's what's happening.
Here are some examples:
* The Bush Administration has distorted scientific evidence about what constitutes successful sex education programs. The Health and Human Services Department changed performance measures to make abstinence-only programs appear successful by dropping measures of program participants who have engaged in sexual intercourse in favor of attendance and attitude assessments. A Center for Disease Controls initiative called "Programs That Work" featured scientifically proven sex education programs on a Web site. In 2002, five such programs were highlighted, none of them was abstinence-only. This initiative has now been ended and information about these programs has been eliminated from the CDC Web site.
* The U.S. Department of Agriculture has, in the words of the Waxman report, "instituted tight controls over the publication of information tending to show negative consequences of agricultural practices, attempted to suppress relevant research, and has prevented a senior scientist from speaking about the adverse environmental consequences from hog farming." A study finding antibiotic resistant bacteria near hog farms in Iowa and Missouri by USDA microbiologist Dr. James Zahn was suppressed and Zahn was not allowed to present his findings in public or private meetings after the National Pork Producers Council heard about them and contacted Zahn's boss.
* When Interior Secretary Gale Norton told Congress that oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge would not harm the caribou there, she altered or omitted important scientific information prepared by federal biologists at the refuge. One Fish and Wildlife official said, "We tried to present all the facts, but she only passed along the ones she liked."
If we were talking about a handful of cases, things might not be so alarming. As members of this administration have grown accustomed to saying about other matters, "A few bad apples ... " and all that. But this pattern is widespread.
Take global warming, where reports by the Environmental Protection Agency have been suppressed. Then there's missile defense, where Defense Department officials have presented misleading information about how quickly a functional system could be deployed - if, in fact, it can ever be truly "functional." Or wetlands policy, where comments from scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service on the destructive impacts of proposed regulatory changes have been withheld.
Finally, after he banned research on new lines of embryonic stem cells, President Bush went on television and told us that research on "more than 60" existing lines "could lead to breakthroughs and cures." But there are only 11 cell lines available - and these are grown from mice, making them inappropriate for treating people.
In its own investigation, the Union of Concerned Scientists has agreed that there is a "well-established pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings" under Bush. The UCS also found that there is "strong documentation of a wide-ranging effort to manipulate the government's scientific advisory system," and that "there is evidence that the administration often imposes restrictions on what government scientists can say or write." The UCS concludes that the scale of Bush's "manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science" is "unprecedented."
Oh, and did I mention that the Republican-led Congress has just cut funding for the National Science Foundation by $105 million?
What is going on here?
Last week Congress voted to reform the intelligence community. It won't do any good so long as we have a government that refuses to be confused by facts.
To read the complete text of Rep. Henry Waxman's report, "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration," go to www.reform.house.gov/min.