February 19th, 2004

Bush’s Broken Ruby Slippers

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 �review team� 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 �new information and findings,� 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.

9 Responses to “Bush’s Broken Ruby Slippers”

  1. david says:

    I just found this fascinating comment on Slashdot regarding a similar head-in-the-stand stance to Science in 1960’s Russia. Could the same thing happen here?

    [quoted material follows]

    Back in the 1970’s, there was a USSR scientist who had weird biological theories that really hindered work done in that country by real biologists..

    You’re thinking of Trofim Lysenko who wasn’t a trained scientist, but his ‘theories’ seemed to fit in with Communist dogma – so he attracted the approval of Stalin. Lysenko got his ideas from a Russian form of Lamarckism known as Michurianism. Essentially it was the old falsehood that said such nonsense as the children of a giraffe have longer necks because their parents stretched to reach leaves on trees.

    Lysenko came to prominence in 1948 when he declared Mendelist evolution to be reactionary, decadant and its proponents to be enemies of the Soviets. Other scientists knew what that meant and on whose behalf he was speaking (Uncle Joe) and quickly fell behind the Party line. He and his theories basically held sway in the Eastern Bloc until 1965 when Kruschev had Lysenko denounced and returned the Soviet Union to the orthodox view of evolution.

    But of course Lysenko’s theories were in sway during the pivotal discoveries of DNA and how it affected genetics. So the Soviet Union fell behind at a vital moment and never recovered.

    It’s an extreme form of the current situation in the US, where any old nonsense can be promoted by politicians to keep their vested interests (be they oil, lead or Christian fundamentalism) happy. Sadly the same is starting to happen over here in the UK, where our non-scientific Prime Minister refuses to condemn schools that teach creationism over evolution.

  2. david says:

    Today’s International Herald Tribune also takes up this issue of growing Lysenkoism. [link]

  3. jay says:

    “Creeping Lysenkoism” would sound even, well, creepier. ;)

  4. Wesley Parish says:

    It seems you’ve got a pincer movement in the States – an Administration without any interest in objective truth on one hand, and on the other, a set of fanatical businesspeople desiring to wrap the world up and present it to themselves via something called “Intellectual Property”.

    And in the middle, you’ve got the unfortunates who try to operate the machine. While both sides are having a go at them.

    I expect the United States will become one big retirement villa in a matter of years.

  5. Gary says:

    I haven’t read a report lately, but I suspect that the "service sector" is still where the bulk of future jobs in the U.S. are likely to be created; so, yeah, soon we’ll have most of the population running around at minimum wages to serve the non-productive rich—the good olde days.

  6. Gary says:

    I haven’t read a report lately, but I suspect that the "service sector" is still where the bulk of future jobs in the U.S. are likely to be created; so, yeah, soon we’ll have most of the population running around at minimum wages to serve the non-productive rich—the good olde days. (Actually, I sxpect that revolution would come up pretty quickly, unless television is free.)

  7. Gary says:

    I haven’t read a report lately, but I suspect that the "service sector" is still where the bulk of future jobs in the U.S. are likely to be created; so, yeah, soon we’ll have most of the population running around at minimum wages to serve the non-productive rich—the good olde days. (Actually, I expect that revolution would come up pretty quickly, unless television is free.)

  8. Gary says:

    Ah, I wondered what would happen if I went back to the previous page and edited my comment… Sorry about that, David.

  9. paulette says:

    Ah, and now the Bush administration responds to the UCS report, with all the depth of analysis and persuasive reasoning we’ve come to expect from W’s white house.