The triumph of ideology over reason

In his response to the first report of the Union of Concerned Scientists (see Feb 19 entry), President Bush claimed that he “believes policies should be made with the best and most complete information possible, and expects his Administration to conduct its business with integrity and in a way that fulfills that belief.� The belief appears to be a hollow one. In their update to the February report, the Union of Concerned Scientists details egregious examples of political litmus tests being applied to scientific appointments to advisory panels. Examples:

  • Several appointees to National Institute of Health advisory councils were contacted by Secretary Tommy Thompson�s office at the Department of Health and Human Services, and asked pointedly political questions, including their opinions of President Bush, their opinions of stem-cell research, whether they supported “faith-based” programs, and who they voted for in the last election. Those who did not answer in alignment with Bush doctrine did not have their nominations approved.
  • 19 of 26 scientific nominations to the board of the Fogarty Center (an NIH branch), including a Nobel laureate, were rejected. The reasons for rejection included signing too many letters in the New York Times critical of Bush, being on the board of a nonprofit reproductive health organization, and publicly supporting abortion rights.
  • Scientific nominations to the President’s Council on Bioethics were rejected on the basis of supporting stem cell research, leaving the ideologue-stacked Council with little scientific input.

These actions amount to nothing less than a Lysenkoist coup over the scientific advisory mechanism within the executive branch. Having political appointees ignore scientific evidence is one thing — as illustrated by the example of the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior (and former lobbyist for the National Mining Association) rejecting a mountain (pun intended) of data around the devastating environmental impact of mountaintop strip mining. But this scientific McCarthyism means that those scientific opinions will never even be heard, much less considered. The triumph of ideology over reason is complete.