Monday, July 31, 2006

Rewriting Science, the Administration Way

There was a fascinating, and extremely disturbing, story on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. I believe it was a replay, as I missed it when it was originally aired.

The story included an interview with NASA climate expert (generally considered the top expert on the panet in his field), Jim Hansen, who risked his job by going public with some White House activity. Ever since the Bush administration came to power, there has been an ongoing campaign of overlooking, questioning, and simply ignoring the science behind several issues, most notably the global changes in climate. It is certainly well-known that it took a number of years before the president would even accept that the global temperature is rising, and even longer to finally acknowledge that humans have something to do with it. But what scientists have been complaining about for years now is the unprecedented way in which this White House censors and restricts scientific results from making it to the public by government scientists. Now, every administration tries to put its own spin on science. Hansen, for instance, mentioned he is politically an independent, and that during the Clinton administration they wanted him to try to spin the science to make global warming and climate change appear to be worse than what the data suggest. Hansen correctly did not do this and made sound scientific recommendations and reported his conclusions based on available evidence, and not political goals.

However, something that has begun to happen with the Bushies is that all scientific reports that are to go public from government research scientists must go through a White House editing process first; and it is not scientists in the White House that are doing the is lawyers and administration officials. This is nonsense!!

For example, any reports that are published for public review on environmental and climate issues are run through the office run by Phil Cooney, the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. It is Cooney who has personally edited the science reports coming from the government agencies that study such topics. The first problem is, Cooney is an attorney, and he is marking up and removing scientific evidence and conclusions from researc papers and memos. I think every rational person would see some problems with an editor who has absolutely no expertise with technical subjects. The second problem is that Cooney was formerly a star lobbyist for the petrolium industry. The 60 Minutes piece had numerous examples of the edits made by Cooney, as they got their hands on actual copies of the papers he edited with his hand-written marks. My favorite is the complete deletion of the paragraph explaining how and why energy production contributes to global warming because of high levels of greenhouse gases during the relevant chemical reactions of the process. He did not even try to fudge the language, but simply crossed it out. The paper submitted to congressional committees contained all the edit and deletions made by Cooney, so that Congress would not be able to see the actual science in order to act at all to curb the problems at hand (since according to the White House, owned and run by big oil, there are no problems). This si despicable in my view, and goes to an entire new level of misinformation and lack of respect for science...and it deals with a major issue that will likely explode in the near future for global environmental damage and global economic chaos.

It should be noted that Hansen has not been allowed to take other interviews, and during the 60 Minutes interview he had a NASA public relations official sitting just off camera, so if he said something the administration did not want to hear, she would have stopped the interview on the spot. This is not what I want in the United is a reflection of an administration that is in denial and has propped up political ideology and overall ignorance ahead of facts and science. It seems like a story that would come out of the former Soviet Union or something.

In my opinion there is no question that the numerous reports of White House tampering with intelligence prior to the invasion of Iraq are true. This White House in particular has gone beyond the normal spin all politicians do, and has created an environment where the expectation is to censor, edit, misinform, and select only those morsels of information that works in their favor. We have seen the results of that misinformation in Iraq, and I fear these eight years of Bush denial and total inaction, which are critical years for the fight of environmental damage, will show similar results in several decades. America and the world deserve better, and I think the single best thing that can happen in the near-term is for the Democrats to win back the House in the fall election. We need to have a buffer to stop the shift to the far right in our government, force it back to a more moderate government, and begin to put science, facts, data, and evidence back into policymaking.

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