31 October 2007

An editorial from Union-Tribune on Censoring Science

White House should not hide the facts
October 30, 2007

Although President Bush has every right to have his policy goals articulated by his appointees, recent reports of top scientists being censored by the administration are indeed troubling. Altering presentations does not alter reality.

The White House has a considerable record of charges that it attempted to edit or censor scientific information to conform with political goals. Among them:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was accused of censoring experts on polar bears about the potentially harmful effects of climate change on the creatures.

Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director James Hansen said earlier this year that Bush administration officials had attempted to stop him from delivering a speech in which he urged prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.

As he was leaving his position as U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Richard Carmona testified before a House committee that the White House would not allow him to speak on aspects of stem cell research, comprehensive sex education, emergency contraception or other politically charged topics.

In 2003, Council on Environmental Quality Director Philip Cooney is said to have made more than 300 changes to an Environmental Protection Agency report on global warming, supposedly exaggerating uncertainties about global warming.

The latest example of questionable political involvement in matters of science involves Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gerberding, a highly regarded infectious disease specialist, was set to deliver written testimony to a Senate panel on how climate change could effect the spread of disease.

Gerberding was prepared to present 12 pages of testimony to the committee, but after submission to the Office of Management and Budget for review, the testimony was reduced to six pages. Gone, among other statements, was one stating: “Populations in Midwestern and Northeastern cities are expected to experience more heat-related illnesses as heat waves increase in frequency, severity and duration.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Gerberding's testimony was cut because, “in the draft there were broad characterizations about climate change that didn't align with the IPCC.” The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which periodically issues reports on climate change research, including two this year. A number of scientists at UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been involved in drafting these reports. Further examination, however, revealed no inconsistencies between the IPCC report and Gerberding's speech.

At this point, more than 12,000 scientists have signed a statement criticizing the Bush administration for manipulating science. With the many public health challenges confronting the nation and the world, Americans have a need and a right to know the truth. All our lives could depend on it.

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