Thursday, February 19, 2004

More on Bush Administration Science Policy
How to Attain Clarity in Science Policy

[Left brain stuff:]  I am not a preeminent scientist; in fact, I am not really a scientist at all, in that I do not perform research.  Rather, I am an educated person who has learned to interpret science and apply it to practical matters.  A few days ago, I wrote a compilation of facts and observations intended to advance the argument that the Bush Administration is guilty of systematic misuse, suppression, and misrepresentation of science.   It turns out that this is part of a blogging wave that is turning into a tsunami.  This article was written by pulling together similar information from a variety of sources, with the intent of adding credibility to my original argument.  I found a link on Pharyngula  to this article:  (From Union of Concerned Scientists)

February 18, 2004

Preeminent Scientists Protest Bush Administration's Misuse of Science
Nobel Laureates, National Medal of Science Recipients, and Other Leading Researchers Call for End to Scientific Abuses

Washington, D.C.—Today, more than 60 leading scientists—including Nobel laureates, leading medical experts, former federal agency directors and university chairs and presidents—issued a statement calling for regulatory and legislative action to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking. According to the scientists, the Bush administration has, among other abuses, suppressed and distorted scientific analysis from federal agencies, and taken actions that have undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels.

“Across a broad range of issues, the administration has undermined the quality of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the government’s outstanding scientific personnel,” said Dr. Kurt Gottfried, emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University and Chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Whether the issue is lead paint, clean air or climate change, this behavior has serious consequences for all Americans.” 

“Science, to quote President Bush's father, the former president, relies on freedom of inquiry and objectivity,” said Russell Train, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Nixon and Ford, who joined the scientists in calling for action. “But this administration has obstructed that freedom and distorted that objectivity in ways that were unheard of in any previous administration.” [...]

A copy of the Union of Concerned Scientists' full report, the basis for the press release quoted above, is in this PDF.  The UCS provides a link for a page  that simplifies reporting of a case of suspected misuse of scientific efforts.  They also have a page that encourages readers to ask their congresspersons to intervene to prevent further cases of such abuse, and other useful stuff.

Unlike my own posts on the subject, the Union of Concern Scientists' article carries some authoritative standing, having been signed by twelve Nobel winners, and many other esteemed experts.  It adds weight to articles posted by CalpunditChris Mooney,  and Pharyngula, among others.  Adding to the authority of the faction that advocates for greater honesty in the use of science, is the organization scienceinpolicy.org.  For those interested in the specifics of certain policy issues, they have compiled a set of policy analyses.  The offerings from UCS and scienceinpolicy.org are the most comprehensive critiques of the Bush administration's science policy that I have seen so far. 

Of course, anyone who endeavors to be critical of science should him- or herself strive to adhere to high standards of scientific and rhetorical rigor.  Those interested in some clarification of the role of rigor and transparency in science advocacy may wish to see Stephen H. Schneider's website.  The essence of what Dr. Schneider has to say is found in the quote from his site:

[...]So how do we scientists deal with this bubbling cauldron of special interests, paradigmatic misunderstandings, and time-honored and entrenched professional practices? While I don’t have any simple answers, I do offer some guidelines that work for me — sometimes. First and foremost, we must drop our superiority judgments; they only stiffen the resolve of those who have been "toilet-trained" in their profession’s paradigms. Next, we should thoroughly explain how we arrive at our conclusions to those asking us for expert opinion. This explanation should include an overview of our personal value judgments, such as how much of a carbon tax we think is 'appropriate' given some estimation of climate damages from carbon emissions. I do not hesitate to give such personal judgments when asked, as I, too, am a citizen entitled to preferences, but I always preface any such offerings by saying that my personal judgment is an opinion about how to take risks — not an expert assessment of the probabilities and consequences of future events. The latter is an assessment of “what can happen and what are the odds of it happening,” and the former is a value judgment regarding what to do about those probabilities and consequences. Third, it is essential that scientists go into explicit detail on how they arrived at their risk estimates (with risk being probability times consequence). How did objective data contribute? How good was the data? What is subjective in the risk judgment? How did you arrive at the assessment?

In addition, I often try to summarize what my colleagues say and publish, keeping in mind that scientific articles that have been through multiple rounds of peer review are far different from op-eds, and which are far different from individuals' congressional testimonials. Perhaps most important, if I can put my “uncertainties cop” hat back on, I encourage scientists to explicitly state what confidence levels they assign to their risk assessments and the degree of subjectivity needed to make that confidence label.

It is also important, as noted, to acknowledge all sides of an issue, and especially to refute any contrarian opinions that are fictional or based on shaky assumptions or evidence. [...] [bold emphasis mine]

Although the documents from scienceinpolicy.org and UCS are strongly worded, they largely adhere to Dr. Schneider's suggestions for rigor and transparency.  They state their concerns clearly, make it clear that they are responding to allegations, and delineate the evidence for the allegations.  They make clear the distinction between their observations and their conclusions.   Ample, verifiable references are provided.  They refrain from ad hominem attacks.  They indicate any source of uncertainty, and quantify that uncertainty when possible.  Although the authors have excellent credentials, they do not rely on the strength of their credentials to bolster their arguments.  Their conclusions stand on the merits of the arguments, not on the reputation of the authors.

I should point out that neither the scienceinpolicy.org nor the UCS reports contain overviews of the authors' personal biases, as Dr. Schneider recommends.  However, the reports are not intended to serve as scientific reports.  Rather, they are intended to demonstrate a consistent pattern of behavior on the part of the Bush administration.  They are written clearly enough that any interested reader can evaluate the evidence him- or herself, and draw conclusions that are either congruent with, or disparate from, the conclusions reached in the reports. 

Regarding the scienceinpolicy.org reports, they make the following statement, which has the effect of alerting the reader to the fact that not everything they have to say is established firmly:

Policy Analyses

We selected a number of issues that have been in the news, and are of ecological importance, which we feel deserve closer scrutiny. Some of them are clear examples of the misuse of science, others are less clear cut. We hope that the following analyses are useful both for those interested in these issues and those interested in the interaction between science and policymaking. This list will be updated as we complete additional analyses.

Regarding the UCS report, there are statements within the report that demonstrate that they do not have a strictly liberal or anti-Republican bias.  This does not prove that they are entirely free of an ideological agenda, but it does indicate that they at least made an effort to be nonpartisan:

The Clean Air Act, which passed during the Nixon administration and was strengthened in 1990 during the first Bush administration, has saved American lives.

Cold War presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon understood that such a serious and dangerous subject requires the advice of outstanding experts independent of the government.

Dr. Wolfgang H.K. Panofsky, a distinguished physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and served on the Presidential Scientific Advisory Committee an  in other high-level scientific advisory roles in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, states that the current administration has isolated itself from independent scientific advice to an unprecedented degree.

It is my opinion that both the scienceinpolicy.org report, and the UCS report, strengthen the case against the Bush administration, by documenting a consistent pattern of behavior that is contrary to the proper application of scientific principles. 


[Right brain stuff:]  Ok, what I've written above is logical, linear, and well-grounded in replicable observations.  Now, I get to indulge in the more spontaneous, creative side of things.  I want to adhere to Dr. Schneider's suggestion that science advocates make clear what their own bias is.  Rather than giving a dry litany of my political proclivities,  I have decided to illustrate my own bias (show rather than tell).  A few days ago, I encountered the following website:

CSE logo

The webmaster styles himself as "Dr. Dino."   He reports that Ken Hovind has a standing offer of a $250,000 reward  for anyone who can prove that evolution exists.  He states that he will accept any empirical evidence that one life form has transformed itself into another.  He adds that he will not accept instances of trivial microevolution, such as the minor variations that occur in all life forms.  He is referring to the emergence of an entirely new species.  The following definition  of the term species  is generally accepted:

The biological species or isolation species concept identifies a species as a set of actually or potentially interbreeding organisms.

Thus, organisms that cannot interbreed are, by definition, members of different species.  Now, I think it is safe to assume that male members of the George Bush lineage do not have sex with each other.  I didn't ask, and they don't tell, but I still think it is a safe assumption.  Therefore they cannot interbreed.  Of course, in order to satisfy Hovind's requirements for proof, we would have to show that there are two instances of George Bushes that differ in nontrivial ways.  Things like small variations in, say, height or weight, would not count.  It would have to be something really important.   Here, I offer the following empirical evidence that a major change occurred in just one generation:

[...] Now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research to genetic engineering to food additives, government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance. And as the frontiers of knowledge are increasingly distant from the understanding of the many, it is ever more important that we can turn to the few for sound, straightforward advice.

The National Academy of Sciences is re-nowned for objectivity and immunity to partisan pressures. Your impartial guidance has been invaluable to American Presidents and to the American people for well over a century. So, I am confident that the members of this body, the most distinguished scientists in America, will continue the tradition that has been the academy's hallmark. On this I know we agree, because so many of our technical and scientific achievements have been the products of independent minds. And if the Earth-moving events of 1989 reminded us of anything at all, it's that complex bureaucracies and centralized planning don't work well in the governance of societies. We will not try to impose them on science. [..]

This self characterization of President George H. W. Bush is no mere phenotype; it is a true representation of who he is on a genetic level.  I present the following evidence of this:

The American Association for Cancer Research Honors President George H. W. Bush With
2002 Public Service Award

[...] AACR Chief Executive Officer Dr. Margaret Foti conferred the award plaque and the framed Cancer Research journal cover to President Bush in a ceremony at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX. The text on the plaque stated: “honoring George H. W. Bush for extraordinary leadership, strong commitment, and unselfish support of the War on Cancer and to saving lives worldwide. We applaud your service to humankind in our Nation's War on Cancer.”

[...] During his term as the forty-first President of the United States, President Bush was a strong supporter of the National Cancer Program and has continued his intense interest in cancer research. He now serves as chairman of the Board of Directors of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center [...]

[...]President George H.W. Bush, proposed a sustained commitment to human exploration of the solar system -- with a return to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars -- in 1989, on the 20th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon.[...]

Role of Security Technology Working Group Examined

[...]Enter TSWG, created in 1986 per a recommendation of a cabinet-level Task Force on Counterterrorism led by then Vice President George H.W. Bush.[...] The goal of the 1986 Task Force was to create a mechanism for coordinating a national R&D program across relevant agencies that would reduce duplication of effort and easily identify gaps in research that needed to be tackled by the federal government.

These anecdotes illustrate that George H.W. Bush was a true proponent of science.  This advocacy continued after his official duties as President ended, which is a sign of sincerity.   In contrast, look at the evidence regarding his son, President George W. Bush:

President's Statement on Climate Change
Statement by the President [George W. Bush], July 13, 2001

Last month, I announced the fundamental principles to guide a scientifically sound and effective global effort to reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As I said then, my Administration's climate change policy will be science-based, encourage research breakthroughs that lead to technological innovation, and take advantage of the power of markets. It will encourage global participation and will pursue actions that will help ensure continued economic growth and prosperity for our citizens and for citizens throughout the world.

 At first glance, this would seem to indicate that there was no fundamental change between the successive generations of George Bushes.   But remember, Hovint is looking for major (genotypic) changes; he is not interested in minor phenotypic characteristics.  So we need to find evidence that, despite outward appearances, George W. Bush difference significantly from George H. W. Bush on the inside.  Fortunately, such evidence is abundant:

Across a broad range of policy areas, the [George W. Bush] administration has undermined the quality and independence of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the government’s outstanding scientific personnel:

    * Highly qualified scientists have been dropped from advisory committees dealing with childhood lead poisoning, environmental and reproductive health, and drug abuse, while individuals associated with or working for industries subject to regulation have been appointed to these bodies.
    * Censorship and political oversight of government scientists is not restricted to the EPA, but has also occurred at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Interior, when scientific findings are in conflict with the administration's policies or with the views of its political supporters.
    * The administration is supporting revisions to the Endangered Species Act that would greatly constrain scientific input into the process of identifying endangered species and critical habitats for their protection.
    * Existing scientific advisory committees to the Department of Energy on nuclear weapons, and to the State Department on arms control, have been disbanded.
    * In making the invalid claim that Iraq had sought to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment centrifuges, the administration disregarded the contrary assessment by experts at Livermore, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

'Lysenkoism' is a vague term for a complex and fuzzy phenomenon. Roughly and for my purposes here, to engage in Lysekoism is to distort science in order to bring it into line with political orthodoxy.

(A) It is well-known (though not well enough known) that the Bush administration is Lysenkoist, though it isn't often put in those terms. This administration has suppressed or distorted scientific conclusions about - among many other topics - global warming, the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, drilling in the ANWR, and air quality in Manhattan after 9/11 in order to force science to conform (or appear to conform) to the administration's antecedently-accepted political beliefs. Henry Waxman's Politics and Science  website is an invaluable resource for information on the political distortion of science in the Bush administration.

(B) It is also reasonably clear that the Bush administration distorted evidence about Iraq's WMDs and its links to al Qaeda in the run up to the Iraq war. This case is made persuasively in several places, most recently in a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications."

What is usually overlooked, however, is that A and B are merely two instances of the same general phenomenon. [...]

At this point, I have established that a) George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush cannot interbreed; and b) they differ in an important way that is not merely a difference of outward appearance.  Indeed, the outward appearance may be the same, but what is inside is fundamentally different.  Therefore, an entirely new species has emerged! 

Before I went to medical school, I participated in some paleontological field work in Wyoming.  In fact, I think it was in Cheney's (undisclosed location) back yard.  I managed to find a fossil that represented a newly-discovered species.  But I didn't get to keep it; it is now somewhere in the University of Michigan's Museum of Natural History.  So I can't use it as evidence to collect the $250,000.  However, the discovery of the new Bush species should qualify.  As the discoverer, I reserve the right to name this new species.  I proudly introduce to you: Bushus lysenkoii.

GW Bush