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 Investigating the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science 

A presentation by Kevin Knobloch (Union of Concerned Scientists),
followed by remarks from Philip Morrison (MIT) & E. O. Wilson (Harvard)

Thursday, March 11, 7 pm
MIT 10-250

Should the US government rely on impartial researchers for their expertise in gathering & analyzing specialized data? The opposite seems to be happening. A growing number of scientists, policy-makers, & technical specialists both in & outside government allege that the Bush Administration has misused science in order to further its political objectives. The Union of Concerned Scientists has just completed an investigation into these allegations.

Findings: (1) High-ranking political appointees in the Bush Administration have repeatedly suppressed & distorted scientific findings, with adverse consequences for human health, public safety, & community well-being. (2) The federal government's scientific advisory system has been manipulated to prevent the appearance of advice that might embarrass the Administration or stand in the way of its political agenda. (3) The Administration imposes restrictions on what government scientists can say or write about "sensitive" topics. And (4) The scope & scale of the manipulation, suppression, & misrepresentation of science by the Bush Administration appears to be unprecedented.

Kevin Knobloch et al.

Our main speaker,  Kevin Knobloch,  is the President of the Union of Concerned Scientists. An expert on a range of issues from renewable energy to forest conservation to corporate responsibility, he oversees all of UCS's research, public education, & legislative programs.

Philip Morrison  has been at MIT for 40 years (Institute Professor; Physics, Emeritus). A distinguished theoretical astrophysicist, in WWII he took part in the Manhattan Project, from Los Alamos to Tinian — & since then has spoken out widely against the use of nuclear weapons. In 1962 at Cornell, he was stoned by students for suggesting that the US & the USSR should strive to avoid nuclear confrontation.

E. O. Wilson  has been at Harvard for 50 years, as professor (now Emeritus) of science & curator in entomology. He has discovered hundreds of new species — is often called "the father of biodiversity" — & is arguably one of the most important thinkers of our time.

(Co-sponsored with: the MIT Technology & Culture Forum, MIT Student Pugwash,
and the MIT Program in Human Rights & Justice)

 More information 

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a non-profit partnership of "scientists & citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, & effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions." The organization arose out of a movement at MIT where a group of faculty & students united to protest the misuse of science & technology. A Faculty Statement was released in December, 1968 urging more emphasis on the application of scientific research to environmental & social problems, rather than military programs. UCS was founded a few months later, and has for 35 years continued to act on & refine its original vision. The current report on the Bush Administration's misuse of science is just the latest example of its work.

  • But as Amanda Griscom reported in Grist Magazine (March 2),

    the initial response from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was flat-out denial. [Bush science advisor] John Marburger dismissed the scientists' complaints as a 'conspiracy report' that cobbled together 'disconnected issues that rubbed somebody the wrong way.' Marburger told the press he had no intention of conducting an internal investigation or passing the report along to higher-ups.

    Yet as Griscom notes, Bush defenders can't simply dismiss the UCS report as a partisan attack:

    [An accompanying statement] was signed by more than half a dozen high-profile Republicans, including Lewis Branscomb, director of the National Bureau of Standards under Nixon; Richard Garwin, a member of the Presidential Science Advisory Committee under Nixon; W. K. H. Panofsky, a PSAC member under Eisenhower; and Norman Ramsey, science advisor to NATO under Eisenhower. Russell Train, administrator of the EPA under Nixon and Ford, has also been publicly supportive … 'I don't see it as a partisan issue at all … If it becomes that way, it's because the White House chooses to make it a partisan issue.'

  • In the journal PLoS Biology (2:4 (April 2004)), Elizabeth H. Blackburn (University of California, San Francisco) & Janet Rowley (University of Chicago), two of the three scientist members of the President's seventeen-member Council on Bioethics, wrote an essay about some of the Council's recent reports on stem-cell research:

    [They] had as their premise the aim of neutrality in the scientific analysis of the issues addressed. But our concern is that some of their contents, as in the few examples [we outline here], may have ended up distorting the potential of biomedical research and the motivation of some of its researchers.

    Blackburn, a prominent cell biologist, was fired by the White House on February 27 (after she had shown a draft of the essay to the board chairman, and after she had, on the chairman's orders, withdrawn a similar statement earlier). The UCS describes Blackburn's dismissal as "an offensive and foolhardy move." UCS President Kevin Knobloch:

    "This clearly adds insult to injury. At a time when they should be reaching out to the scientific community and reassuring us, trying to bridge the growing disconnect, they're indicating that they don't take our concerns seriously."

    Or as the American Physical Society's Bob Parks puts it:

    Barely a week after 60 prominent scientists issued a statement charging the Bush administration with manipulating the science advisory process … the White House delivered an eloquent response — two advocates of stem-cell research were abruptly ejected from the Council on Bioethics, and replaced on the panel by three appointees whose opposition to stem cell research is solidly faith-based. Anybody else want to speak up? John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has apparently been assigned the task of belittling the scientists' statement, but the 60 prominent scientists who signed aren't backing down.

    The entry, "Political Science," appears in the March 5 edition of the APS "What's New" column.

  • In The Nation (March 8, 2004), Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. writes:

    Science, like theology, reveals transcendent truths about a changing world. At their best, scientists are moral individuals whose business is to seek the truth. Over the past two decades industry and conservative think tanks have invested millions of dollars to corrupt science. They distort the truth about tobacco, pesticides, ozone depletion, dioxin, acid rain and global warming. In their attempt to undermine the credible basis for public action (by positing that all opinions are politically driven and therefore any one is as true as any other), they also undermine belief in the integrity of the scientific process.

    Now Congress and this White House have used federal power for the same purpose. Led by the President, the Republicans have gutted scientific research budgets and politicized science within the federal agencies. The very leaders who so often condemn the trend toward moral relativism are fostering and encouraging the trend toward scientific relativism. The very ideologues who derided Bill Clinton as a liar have now institutionalized dishonesty and made it the reigning culture of America's federal agencies.

    The Bush Administration has so violated and corrupted the institutional culture of government agencies charged with scientific research that it could take a generation for them to recover their integrity even if Bush is defeated this fall. Says Princeton University scientist Michael Oppenheimer, "If you believe in a rational universe, in enlightenment, in knowledge and in a search for the truth, this White House is an absolute disaster."

    Kennedy's article is entitled "The Junk Science of George W. Bush."

  • On February 22, 2004, a curious item appeared in the British paper The Observer. Journalists Mark Townsend & Paul Harris reported:

    A secret report, [commissioned and] suppressed by [the Pentagon] and obtained by the Observer … predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents. … The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. … Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern,' say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network. … Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change. … Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored. … 'It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act.

    The Pentagon report, entitled "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," was dated October, 2003. It was commissioned by strategic planner Andrew Marshall. Townsend and Harris reported that it was suppressed, but David Stipp, summarizing and discussing it in FORTUNE (February 9, 2004), wrote that "the Pentagon has agreed to share" it (with him, presumably). And has it been shared with anyone else? According to the New York Times (Andrew Revkin, February 29, 2004), "Pentagon spokesmen said it had not been passed on to Mr. Marshall's superiors in the Defense Department or the Bush administration."

  • Journalist Amy Goodman (Democracy Now, February 24, 2004) reported:

    The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works authored in nations under trade embargoes, which include Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Cuba. Although publishing the articles is legal, editing is a, quote, service, and the Treasury Department says it's illegal to perform services for embargoed nations. It can be punishable by fines of up to half a million dollars or jail terms as long as ten years.

    Goodman discussed the ban with Robert Bovenschulte, publications editor with the American Chemical Society, the largest professional society in the world, which, along with other commercial and scholarly publishers, has decided to challenge the US government and risk criminal prosecution by editing articles submitted from the embargoed nations.