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Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists

In a wide-ranging and damning report signed by 60 leading scientists including 20 Nobel laureates, the prestigious Union of Concerned Scientists charged the Bush administration with manipulating “the process through which science enters into its decisions.” Among the offenses they cite:

• Placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees,
• Disbanding existing advisory committees,
• Censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists, and
• Simply not seeking independent scientific advice.

When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions. This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies. More in PDF

A growing number of scientists, policy makers, and technical specialists both inside and outside the government allege that the current Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy. In addition, these experts contend that irregularities in the appointment of scientific advisors and advisory panels are threatening to upset the legally mandated balance of these bodies. More in PDF

“I’m not aware that [Nixon] ever hand-picked ideologues to serve on advisory committees, or dismissed from advisory committees very well-qualified people if he didn’t like their views… What’s going on now is in many ways more insidious. It happens behind the curtain. I don’t think we’ve had this kind of cynicism with respect to objective scientific advice since I’ve been watching government, which is quite a long time.”
– Professor Lewis M. Branscomb, director of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) in the Nixon administration. More in PDF

The list includes 20 Nobel laureates and 19 recipients of the National Medal of Science, an award given by the president of the United States to individuals “deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.” More in PDF