The Electric Commentary

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Bush and Science

4,000 scientists, including 4 dozen Nobel Prize winners have signed a declaration that condemns the Bush administration's misuse and distortion of science according to this story. And this is just about enough to knock me off of the political fence. The thing that bothers me most about the President is that he makes decisions based on faith and his goofy beliefs.

The federal government relies on hundreds of scientific and technical panels for advice on a wide range of policy issues. Advisers range from wildlife biologists who provide expertise on endangered species to physicists who help guide the development of new weaponry.

scientists charge that the Bush administration has violated its side of the bargain in two ways: By manipulating scientific information to suit political purposes and by applying a political litmus test to membership on scientific advisory committees.

Bush's top science advisor said this about Stem Cell research: "The really important questions here are ethical questions; they're not science questions."

This is alarming. There is something wrong when the president's top science advisor does not believe that stem cell research is a science issue. If this is not a science question then why did Bush's science advisor address it? The ethical issues surrounding stem cell research are sketchy, debatable and sometimes imaginary. The scientific issues are real. But the Bush Administration rarely seems to care about anything real. For example:

A panel of experts, by a 28-0 vote, declared a drug safe for over-the-counter sales in December, they expected the Food and Drug Administration to approve it for nonprescription use soon thereafter.

But six months later the agency disagreed, citing a lack of data about the safety of the drug for 11- to 14-year-old girls.

Three physicians on the FDA advisory panel protested in an editorial published by the New England Journal of Medicine, claiming the agency was distorting the scientific evidence for political reasons.

The drug in question: a morning-after contraceptive known as Plan B.

"A treatment for any other condition, from hangnail to headache to heart disease, with a similar record of safety and efficacy would be approved quickly," the protesting panel members wrote.

This is disgusting and it is dangerous. It is also a decision that was obviously not based on science.

The associated press writer of this story unknowingly makes a statement about science that, to me, seems to echo the Bush administrations view on science.

Incorporating science into government has always been a sensitive proposition, given the vast differences between them.

Scientists collect evidence and conduct experiments to arrive at an objective description of reality — to describe the world as it is rather than as we might want it to be.

Government, on the other hand, is about anything but objective truth. It deals with gray areas, competing values, the allocation of limited resources. It is conducted by debate and negotiation. Far from striving for ultimate truths, it seeks compromises that a majority can live with.

This is the problem. Government decision makers should be collecting evidence and conducting experiments to arrive at the best possible outcomes. Every decision the government makes is an experiment. When Bush made the decision to limit research on stem cell research and US progress in the area slowed down while European progress increased resulting in new developments and economic and business success, that was an experiment. When he sends troops to Iraq or Afghanistan or removes troops from Germany, that's an experiment too. Not amking "Plan B" availble over the counter is an experiment. Having a political litmus test for approving science advisors is an experiment. Every increase or decrease in taxing or spending is an experiment. Every tariff is an experiment. Every speech the president gives is an experiment. We can see the results of these experiments. The problem with Bush is that most of the time he ignores the results. I realize that people are not electrons or rats in a maze. We will never find absolute perfect answers through these kinds of experiments but we can find the best compromises that a majority can live with.

The scientific method, with all of its flaws, is the best means of decision making no matter what the decision is.


  • The scientific method would work if the objective of politics was effective governace; it's not. A decision that is best for good governace is not necessarily best poltically.

    By Blogger RyanSimatic, at 12:59 PM  

  • Maybe we can experiment with ways to reconcile the two.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 1:12 PM  

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