I don’t know what distresses me more about this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists: that the Bush administration is ignoring, bending, or outright refuting scientific fact to meet their political whims, or that the Administration can dismiss the legitimate concerns of 60 prominent scientists (including 20 Nobel laureates) with claims of “bias” or “political motivation”. Frankly, if you can’t trust the opinions of leading-light scientists on the issue of science, then who can you trust?
But this issue is illustrative of a wider problem with the Bush administration I find even more troubling (to use a word Bush himself is rather fond of lately): Bush’s penchant for wish-politics. Like no President before him, Bush really, truly, seems to believe that he can make something true simply by wishing for it. Facts, political realities, practicalities, the will of the people be damned: it simply shall be. In fact, Bush appears to go out of his way to actively avoid any facts that might conflict with his will: he famously does not read newspapers, and his ignorance of scientific advisors in decisionmaking is symptomatic of this, too.
Bush wished that there should be a war in Iraq. He dearly wished that weapons of mass destruction would be the justification of that war, and no amount of evidence to the contrary from the weapons inspectorate, nor opposition from the UN or allies would convince him otherwise.
Bush wished that tax cuts would lead to job growth. With each tax cut, jobs were lost, in their millions, rather than gained as wished-for. Bush appears truly oblivious to this fact.
Bush wished that 2.6 million new jobs would magically appear this year, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers was apparently happy to publish this wish, in the face of doubt from every economist alive. Even Bush won’t repeat his wish now, but he won’t deny its self-willed truth, either.
Bush wished that Iraq would be a democracy by the end of June. The fact that the UN insists it’s simply not possible, not only politically but practically has no bearing on this: it will happen, according to Bush.
I have this image of Bush when he’s alone in the White House. He’s wearing his ruby slippers. His eyes are closed, and as he taps the heels together he softly chants: “There’s no such thing as truth. There’s no such thing as truth. There’s no such thing as truth.”
I’m afraid there is, George.
Read on for examples from the full UCS report of the head-in-the-sand mentality of the Bush administration with regard to politically unpalatable scientific fact:
- A USDA research biologist discovered frightening evidence of airborne antibiotic-resistant bacteria being produced by pig farms and found in the local environment in Iowa and Missouri, but was barred by superiors from publishing or presenting the research at scientific conferences: “politically sensitive and controversial issues require discretion”.
- A report on the effects of airborne mercury (a dangerous pollutant produced by coal-fired power plants) was suppressed by the White House until it was leaked to the press by a frustrated EPA official. The report included findings in direct contradiction of the administration’s stated policy of reducing regulation of power plants.
- The White House insisted on modifying an EPA report into the human effect on climate change, forcing the authors to imply “uncertainty when there is essentially none”. This led to the entire section on climate change being dropped from the public report, despite that topic being discussed in the report in each of the preceding five years.
- An EPA report evaluating the potential consequences of a Senate proposal to strengthen the Clean Air act (regulations initiated by the first Bush administration) was similarly suppressed until leaked. A White House official was heard to say of the report, “How can we justify Clear Skies [Bush II's environment act] if this gets out?”
- Information about the benefits of sex education (other than exclusively abstinence-based programs, which are known to be ineffective) and the benefits of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS was directed to be removed from the CDC website by administration officials. On the other hand, a stated link between breast cancer and abortion (disproven by scientific studies) was included.
- The Bush administration created a five-person ï¿½review teamï¿½ made up of predominantly nonscientists who proceeded to overrule a $12 million science-based plan for managing old-growth forest habitat and reducing the risk of fire. Contrary to Forest Service claims that their recommendations are based on ï¿½new information and findings,ï¿½ the proposed revisions lack any scientific basis.
This systematic pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees is truly frightening. As the report states, these actions have direct consequences for human health, public safety, and community well-being. But apparently, short-term benefit for special interests, and appeasing the Religious Right and other supporters, is more important than the well-being of the rest of us.