The Bush administration has distorted scientific fact leading to policy decisions on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry, a group of about 60 scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent organization, also issued a 37-page report, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," detailing the accusations. The statement and the report both accuse the Bush administration of distorting and suppressing findings that contradict administration policies, stacking panels with like-minded and underqualified scientists with ties to industry, and eliminating some advisory committees altogether.
The scientists listed various policy issues as being unfairly influenced by the administration, including those concerning climate change, mercury emissions, reproductive health, lead poisoning in children, workplace safety and nuclear weapons. New regulations and laws are necessary to fix the situation, the statement says.
"We found a serious pattern of undermining science by the Bush administration, and it crosses disciplines, whether it's global climate change or reproductive health or mercury in the food chain or forestry -- the list goes on and on," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
President Bush's science adviser, John Marburger, said he was disappointed in the report, and called it biased.
"I just don't think (the examples given) add up to the kind of systematic undermining of scientific integrity the report accuses the administration of," he said.
He said he was troubled by the fact that some very prestigious scientists signed the statement.
"We have to find a way to reach out to them and try to come to an understanding, because this administration has in fact been very supportive of science," Marburger said. He noted the administration has doubled the National Institutes of Health budget and increased the National Science Foundation budget.
The Union of Concerned Scientists began investigating the Bush administration's scientific policy-making last summer in response to numerous complaints from members of the scientific community, Knobloch said. The report documents various instances of the administration undercutting science, scientists and the public welfare, he said.
For example, the panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on lead poisoning was recently planning to strengthen the lead poisoning regulations, in response to science showing that smaller amounts than previously understood could cause brain damage in children, Knobloch said.
Before the panel could act, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson rejected the recommendation and replaced two members of the panel with individuals tied to the lead industry, Knobloch said.
Marburger said he wasn't familiar with the details of the panel changes, "but I'm pretty sure there were other reasons for making changes on the panel," he said. "I think there are reasonable explanations for nearly all the things in the report, and rather than look for what those explanations might be, I think the (researchers were) somewhat biased in favor of a sweeping opinion of what this administration is all about, and I just don't think that's justified."
The researchers also took issue with a White House Office of Management and Budget bulletin regarding peer review, a process fundamental to science by which researchers check each other's work for accuracy and balance before it's published. The bulletin (PDF), drafted in August 2003, would allow the government to hand-pick scientists to second-guess scientific research, opponents say.
The text of the bulletin says its purpose would be to ensure that all research affecting federal regulations, such as environmental or health advisories, would be thoroughly peer-reviewed by unbiased researchers. But opponents say the bulletin's guidelines would scrutinize only academic researchers for bias, not industry scientists.