Science-Politics Tension Dates Back Centuries

"Why is science seemingly at war with President Bush?"

That's the question recently asked by a New York Times reporter in an article that begs for some perspective.

The premise of Andrew Revkin's article ("Bush vs. the Laureates: How Science Became a Partisan Issue," Oct. 19) is that supposedly nonpartisan scientists are "bitter" toward the Bush administration for allegedly politicizing science — and the scientists have taken action with 48 Nobel laureates signing a letter this summer endorsing Sen. John Kerry for president.

"Political action by scientists has not been so forceful since 1964," Revkin writes.

That may be true — although I would limit that statement to "some scientists." There are plenty of scientists who think that President Bush has not done enough to reverse the federal government's proclivity for junk science. But to the extent there is any uprising by some vocal scientists against President Bush, it's had little to do with science and everything to do with politics.

First, as far as the 48 Nobel Prize-winners supporting Kerry are concerned, none of them have any noted expertise in any of the particular public policy issues on which they criticize the Bush administration. Their views on public policy issues, in fact, are often no more informed than those held among the general public. So there is little meaning in highlighting the views of Nobel laureates.

Rockefeller University energy expert Jesse Ausbel told Revkin that researchers were angry with the Bush administration because they were excluded from policy circles that were open to them under previous administrations.

"So these people who believe themselves important feel themselves belittled," Ausbel said.

Moving past the apparent rampant narcissism among these scientists, it's not clear why President Bush should have been saddled with scientists who may have advised President Clinton. Such scientists were often egregiously wrong on major scientific controversies — global warming, air quality and pesticides, to name a few.

Global warming fretter-in-chief Dr. James Hansen told Revkin, "Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn't consistent with that. I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now."

Now let's see about that.

There was the Clinton EPA's report claiming that secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually — a report that was trashed by a federal judge who said that the Clinton EPA cheated on the science to reach a predetermined result.

Then there were the dubious air quality rules that the Clinton EPA rammed through in 1997. When Congress asked the Clinton EPA to provide the raw data from a key study to independent experts for verification, the agency shockingly refused, saying such a review would not accomplish anything.

And how could we forget the Clinton EPA's infamous program addressing chemicals in the environment that supposedly adversely affect hormonal systems (so-called endocrine disrupters?) That multibillion-dollar program survives (even under the Bush administration) despite the fact that the study that launched the program was withdrawn from publication because it was determined by federal investigators to be the product of scientific fraud.

There's also the Clinton EPA's baseless campaign to scare parents about alleged threats to children posed by chemicals in the environment, its senseless vilification of General Electric over PCBs in the Hudson River, and the agency's effort to scare us about allegedly cancer-causing dioxin in the food supply.

Those are just some of the examples of politicized science at the Clinton EPA — and it seems pretty institutional to me.

This is not new. Politically correct science has been with us since at least the time of Galileo Galilei in the 16th century. It will be a difficult task to de-politicize science given that the federal government plays such a large role in funding scientific research and interpreting the scientific data that is used as the basis for law and regulation.

President Bush inherited this inherently political process — he did not invent it.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of "Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams" (Cato Institute, 2001).

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