Sunday, October 17, 2004
Bush's War on Reality (part 87b)
There’s a war going on—and not just the one in Iraq. This conflict may not get as much media play, but it could have just as great an impact on our safety, national prestige, and long-term economic health. It is a war over the integrity of science itself, and the casualties are everywhere: career scientists and enforcement officials are resigning en masse from government agencies, citing an inability to do their jobs due to what they see as the ruthless politicization of science by the Bush administration. Bruce Boler, Marianne Horinko, Rich Biondi, J. P. Suarez and Eric Schaeffer are among those who have resigned from the EPA alone. In a letter to The New York Times, former EPA administrator Russell Train, who worked for both Nixon and Ford, wrote, “I can state categorically that there never was such White House intrusion into the business of the EPA during my tenure.” Government meddling has reached such a level that European scientists are voicing concerns that Bush may not merely be undermining U.S. dominance in sciences, but global research as well.
Indifference to reality in this department has dire consequences for all of us. The Bush Administration's systematised delusion that they can create a reality of their choosing by surpressing facts that they don't like seems positively surreal when its machinations are described:
...Then there are those examples the UCS does not mention: the Corn Refiners Association and Sugar Association successfully lobbied Bush to pressure the World Health Organization to de-emphasize the importance of cutting sweets and eating fruits and vegetables in their anti-obesity guidelines. Two scientists were ejected from a bioethics council due to what they believed to be their views favoring embryo research. Data on hydraulic fracturing were altered so benzene levels met government standards after “feedback” from an industry source. Another study (sponsored by Florida developers) claiming wetlands cause pollution, was used by the EPA to justify replacing protected marshes with golf courses to improve “water quality.”
Nothing is so trivial that it escapes top administration advisor Karl Rove’s insistence on staying “on message”—from forbidding NASA scientists to speak to the press about the global warming disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, to letting National Park Service gift shops sell books with the “alternative view” that the Grand Canyon was formed in seven days.
More than indifference, the Bush Administration's behaviour seems more like malicious intent towards the American people, so flagrant is their disregard for health and safety practices:
One need look no further than the USDA to see how compromised the research and enforcement environment has become. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman was a former food industry lawyer and lobbyist and her staff includes representatives of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other industry groups. So it should be no surprise that shortly after a dairy cow from Canada tested positive for mad cow disease a senior scientist came forward alleging agency pressure to let Canadian beef into the U.S. before a study concluded it was safe. Nor should it shock us that whistleblowers accused an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service supervisor of insisting a cow exhibiting symptoms of the disease be sent to a rendering plant before a technician could perform the tests mandated by agency guidelines. But even the most cynical among us might be baffled by the almost cultish devotion to industry pandering exhibited when the USDA refused to give Creekstone Farms Premium Beef the kits it requested to voluntarily test its cattle so it could export to Japan because it might “create the impression that untested beef was not safe.” Creekstone may very well go bankrupt as a result.
Such reluctance only makes sense if the USDA fears that positive results are possible. Still, one hesitates to suggest the USDA is trying to sell as much tainted beef as possible before people start exhibiting symptoms. One hesitates slightly less so after learning that EPA staffers were also prevented from performing routine analysis of the economic and health consequences of proposed regulations governing mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. After all, it’s a lot easier to suppress unfavorable scientific findings if there’s nothing to suppress. But surely even they realize preventing an analysis of the consequences of our actions will not prevent those consequences from occurring. That’s the rub. Science doesn’t appear to factor into their reasoning at all. The tests might come up negative. They might come up positive. The meat is considered safe either way.
Compounding this frightening prospect are the neocons' plans to fully subjugate science to the propaganda machine:
When agencies that used to be tasked with providing objective analysis no longer inform policy, their only remaining value is in bolstering preconceived conclusions. The ultimate danger of this view of science-as-public relations can be seen in a recent proposal by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that would grant the administration greater control over peer review of “all major government rules, plans, proposed regulations and pronouncements.” David Michaels of the Department of Energy complained, “It goes beyond just having the White House involved in picking industry favorites to evaluate government science. Under this proposal, the carefully crafted process used by the government to notify the public of an imminent danger is going to first have to be signed off by someone weighing the political hazards.” After an outcry from scientists, the OMB seems to have scaled back the proposal from disastrous to merely horrifying, but if past behavior is any guide the administration will keep returning to the cookie jar until science is an empty vessel firmly under the direction of the White House press office.