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Bush's So-Called "Sound Science" Policies Endanger Public Health

GM WATCH daily

David Schubert has also raised concerns about GM crops:
A Different Perspective on GM Food
by Prof David Schubert, Nature, Vol 20, No10 p. 969
Bush's 'sound science'
Turning a deaf ear to reality
San Diego Union-Tribune
By David Schubert

The foundation of our modern society and its continued existence is
dependent upon our scientific understanding of the world around us.

During the last three years, we have witnessed an unprecedented assault by
the executive branch of our government upon the ability of U.S. scientists
to freely share their data and insights about our world with the public.
Much of the justification for this repression of scientific communication
falls under the Orwellian concept of "sound science," which is clearly
understood by the scientific community to mean the misrepresentation of
scientific data to reflect the administration's political and social

This political manipulation of U.S. science began well below the level of
public awareness within days after the current administration took office.
Highly respected scientists on dozens of advisory committees were replaced
with individuals who promote the sound science defined by industry and the
religious right.

The concept of sound science, not to be confused with good science, was
coined by Newt Gingrich and the incoming 1994 Republican Congress as part
of an effort to bypass regulatory hurdles. Sound science required endless
analysis and an extreme burden of proof of harm before anything could be
regulated by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, the legislation proposed by this group was never made into law.

Now that the Republicans are in total control of the government, the
promises of sound science are coming to fruition. The egregious censorship and
interference with independent scientific inquiry by the Bush administration
were explicitly documented on a case-by-case basis in a recent report
published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report was endorsed by
over 60 Nobel prize winners and leading scientists.

During the last few weeks, the administration has added to this list an
unprecedented series of declarations that have the potential to even more
seriously affect public health and safety.

First, they have demanded the power to approve all U.S. scientists who sit on
World Health Organization committees. The WHO is the public health arm of
the United Nations responsible for coordinating responses to epidemics like
SARS and eradicating diseases such as smallpox. It also makes
recommendations on environmental and industrial threats. The WHO's expert
panels have historically been made up of the very best scientists chosen on
the basis of expertise and merit, not political ideology.

Second, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blocked the travel
of over 150 U.S. scientists to the International AIDS Conference to be held
in Bangkok next week. Many believe that this is because the organizer of
the conference refused a request by U.S. officials to invite the Rev.
Franklin Graham, the evangelist Billy Graham's son, as the keynote speaker
to promote faith-based approaches to the global AIDS epidemic.

Third, in the name of sound science, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
denied the Creekstone Farms slaughterhouse in Kansas a request to test all
of its cattle for mad cow disease. The testing was an effort by Creekstone
to promote the sale of its beef to Japan, where all cattle are routinely

The most likely reason for the denial of this increased safety precaution is
that the government fears additional cases of the disease will be found, for
only a tiny fraction of the 35 million cattle slaughtered each year are
examined. Indeed, another case of the disease was recently identified, but
the USDA rapidly proclaimed the test to be a false positive without giving
any details.

This incident brings me to the most frightening administration policyof all,
which is an attempt by the White House Office of Management and Budget to
gain complete control over the release of all public declarations from
federal agencies responsible for public safety, health and the environment.
OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs uses the excuse of sound
science to justify stripping scientists of their traditional authority and
adding an additional layer of political review for such life-threatening
scenarios as epidemics, nuclear accidents and cases of mad cow disease?

Although this policy has been criticized by every scientific organization in
the country, the OMB has already silenced EPA statements regarding public
health threats due to arsenic, lead and mercury in our environment,
rewritten the EPA science on global warming and prevented the EPA from
declaring a public health emergency due to a case of asbestos contamination
in Montana.

Just as the Bush administration manipulated the intelligence on Iraq, it is
now trying to change the facts of nature to meet their political and
ideological goals. This distortion of reality is going to have long-term
consequences for our health, safety and the environment.

If you believe that Big Brother is taking care of you, you can rest assured
that he is doing it in the name of sound science.

Schubert is a professor and laboratory head of the Cellular Neurobiology
Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla.