The politics of science

Public affairs chicanery is going on at numerous science agencies, the Post reports.

Abuse of science from public affairs departments is not limited to NASA, it seems. In an editorial today, the Washington Post writes that across the science agencies, data is being held hostage to politics.

The spectacle of a young political appointee with no college degree exerting crude political control over senior government scientists and civil servants with many decades of experience is deeply disturbing. More disturbing is the fact that Mr. Deutsch's attempts to manipulate science and scientists, although unusually blatant, were not unique. Just before Christmas, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued "talking points" to local environmental agencies. These suggestions were intended to help their spokesmen play down an Associated Press story that -- using the EPA's own data -- showed that impoverished neighborhoods had higher levels of air pollution.

At the Food and Drug Administration, the director of the Office of Women's Health recently resigned because she believed that the administration was twisting science to stall approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception. Off the record -- because they fear losing their jobs -- some scientists at the Department of Health and Human Services say that Bush administration public affairs officers screen their appearances and utterances more carefully than anyone ever did. Scientists at places such as the Agriculture Department, not a part of the government known for its publicity hounds, have made the same claim.

With proof mounting of political interference with science, it's time for appropriate Congressional committees to exert heavy-handed oversight of the science agencies to make sure that the full and free flow of government research is allowed to happen. As the Post writes:

 

[T]his administration is trying to spin scientific data and muzzle scientists toward that end. NASA's Mr. Hansen was right when he told the Times that Mr. Deutsch was only a bit player. "The problem is much broader and much deeper and it goes across agencies," he said. We agree.