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Scientific American.com
April 26, 2004

Bush-League Lysenkoism

The White House bends science to its will

By The Editors

Starting in the 1930s, the Soviets spurned genetics in favor of
Lysenkoism, a fraudulent theory of heredity inspired by Communist
ideology. Doing so crippled agriculture in the U.S.S.R. for decades.
You would think that bad precedent would have taught President George
W. Bush something. But perhaps he is no better at history than at
science.

In February his White House received failing marks in a statement
signed by 62 leading scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, 19
recipients of the National Medal of Science, and advisers to the
Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. It begins, "Successful
application of science has played a large part in the policies that
have made the United States of America the world's most powerful
nation and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy. Although
scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in
public policy decisions, this input should always be weighed from an
objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous
consequences.... The administration of George W. Bush has, however,
disregarded this principle."

Doubters of that judgment should read the report from the Union of
Concerned Scientists (UCS) that accompanies the statement, "Restoring
Scientific Integrity in Policy Making" (available at www.ucsusa.org).
Among the affronts that it details: The administration misrepresented
the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and other experts on
climate change. It meddled with the discussion of climate change in
an Environmental Protection Agency report until the EPA eliminated
that section. It suppressed another EPA study that showed that the
administration's proposed Clear Skies Act would do less than current
law to reduce air pollution and mercury contamination of fish. It
even dropped independent scientists from advisory committees on lead
poisoning and drug abuse in favor of ones with ties to industry.

Let us offer more examples of our own. The Department of Health and
Human Services deleted information from its Web sites that runs
contrary to the president's preference for "abstinence only" sex
education programs. The Office of Foreign Assets Control made it much
more difficult for anyone from "hostile nations" to be published in
the U.S., so some scientific journals will no longer consider
submissions from them. The Office of Management and Budget has
proposed overhauling peer review for funding of science that bears on
environmental and health regulations--in effect, industry scientists
would get to approve what research is conducted by the EPA.

None of those criticisms fazes the president, though. Less than two
weeks after the UCS statement was released, Bush unceremoniously
replaced two advocates of human embryonic stem cell research on his
advisory Council on Bioethics with individuals more likely to give
him a hallelujah chorus of opposition to it.

Blind loyalists to the president will dismiss the UCS report because
that organization often tilts left--never mind that some of those
signatories are conservatives. They may brush off this magazine's
reproofs the same way, as well as the regular salvos launched by
California Representative Henry A. Waxman of the House Government
Reform Committee [see Insights] and maybe even Arizona Senator John
McCain's scrutiny for the Committee on Commerce, Science and
Transportation. But it is increasingly impossible to ignore that this
White House disdains research that inconveniences it.