Scientific manipulation

As I’m sure you know, on February 18, 2004, a group of 60 prominent scientists issued a statement, “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking”, which expressed concern over the Bush administration’s misuse or suppression of science in areas such as environment, health, and nuclear weapons. Signers included 20 Nobel laureates and scientists from a broad spectrum of political views. When the statement was released, Russell Train, a lifelong Republican, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Nixon and Ford said “this administration has obstructed that freedom and distorted that objectivity in ways that were unheard of in any previous administration.” The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a companion 37-page report detailing practices such as censorship of scientific documents, rewriting to distort the evidence, packing scientific panels, and dismissing panelists who arrived at the wrong conclusions. Since then, there have been numerous incidents showing that these practices are continuing.

This issue seems absolutely central to the GSLIS mission to promote access for all to reliable information. At the level of National policy, open access to the best information we can obtain is essential in every area and the wanton distortion of evidence undermines effective governance. I’ve signed the statement for those reasons, but also because I believe that manipulation of information in this way is a crucial element in the erosion of democracy.

A closely-related issue is the large-scale removal of scientific and information from the public domain.. There is a National Academies of Science report on this “The Role of Scientific and Technical Data and Information in the Public Domain: Proceedings of Symposium”. (I have a paper copy as well). That report, by the way, took an entire year to come out (compared to the usual 4-5 months); the extra time was most likely for security review. That’s consistent with an environment in which the CIA can mark as “classified” its report on the National Research Council meeting on scientific openness (held in Washington, DC on January 23-24, 2003).

If you’d like to sign the statement, “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policymaking,” or to read more about the issue, just start with the update message below or follow the links at http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/. You can also see the Bush administration’s April 2 response.

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