(UPI) -- Political decisions this year by the Bush Administration
have set the stage for a head-on collision with a group that generally
does not get involved in politics -- the nation's scientists.
issue: whether the administration's claim to be seeking "good
science" in several critical issues really is a smokescreen
to obscure already valid research results, skew scientific deliberations
for political reasons and conceal deliberate inaction.
seems to be drawing more scientists into the debate are appointments
made by Bush officials to key science advisory committees, such
as at the Department of Health and Human Services. Such panels are
vital to helping policy makers sort out the often conflicting results
of the hundreds of complex research studies done each year on health,
drugs, the environment and other areas vital to the public's well
law, the panels are supposed to be balanced, but critics charge
the administration is trying to stack some of them, such as the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee
on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. There, some appointees have
been characterized as less qualified than alternative selections
and are viewed as likely to oppose additional regulation -- a position
the administration supports.
to other panels have been questioned as well. Panels under scrutiny
include the CDC Advisory Committee to the Director of the National
Center for Environmental Health and the Food and Drug Administration's
Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. The latter might be
called on to review the highly controversial drug, UR-486, which
can be used to end an early term pregnancy.
also were raised about appointments to the Army Science Board when
a former consultant said in a letter to Science magazine nominations
to the board -- including his -- were being turned down because
of suspected Democratic campaign contributions. Another letter in
Science said HHS had expanded its political parsing of nominees
to include peer-review study sections. These panels recommend who
should receive money for research projects.
for the White House and HHS said the criticisms are politically
motivated, the appointees are qualified and the strategy is to add
balance to the panels.
spokesman William Pierce also took issue with news reports that
two scientific panels were set to be disbanded: the HHS Advisory
Committee on Genetic Testing, which has supported expanded regulation
of genetic testing, and the HHS National Human Research Protections
Advisory Committee, whose positions on testing embryos did not,
according to news reports, fit the administration's desire to extend
protections to the unborn and perhaps strengthen efforts against
were never disbanded," Pierce told UPI, adding both committees
have new charters and appointments should be made to them soon --
possibly by the end of the year.
present it is not clear whether the administration actually intended
to disband the committees. Without weeks of independent, in-depth
research on all the committee members in question, it is not possible
to determine if criticism has been warranted or if the administration's
actions have constituted politics as usual.
is telling, however -- and a better guide -- is the reaction of
scientists. Who should be more familiar with the work of their colleagues
and the appropriateness of the process than the members themselves?
far, the scientific community is giving clear indications it is
worried the process is being rigged. That seems to be why they are
speaking out against it.
American Public Health Association adopted a statement Nov. 12 that
said: "APHA has observed with concern recent steps by government
officials at the federal level to restructure key federal scientific
and public health advisory committees by retiring the committees
before their work is completed, removing or failing to reappoint
qualified members, and replacing them with less scientifically qualified
candidates and candidates with a clear conflict of interest. Such
steps suggest an effort to inappropriately influence these committees."
APHA called for standards to be set by an independent body for all
such committees at all levels of government.
officials should re-evaluate the newly reconstituted advisory panels
and take steps to address any deficiencies related to the scientific
or expert qualifications, balance of perspectives, and financial
conflict of interest of their membership," the association
is just the start. The Society of Toxicology is looking at the APHA
policy and considering adopting a similar position of its own, said
society President Dr. William F. Greenlee. "We are very, very
concerned about political agendas having entered the peer review
process," Greenlee told UPI in an interview.
Council of Scientific Society Presidents also is taking up the issue.
would consider this (approach) a serious breach of the relationship
between the science community and the government if it expands in
this direction because it does good service to neither," Martin
Apple, CSSP's president, told UPI.
which comprises the leadership of more than 125 of the nation's
top professional science associations, took up discussion of the
issue during its board meeting the first week in December.
at CSSP will bring the issue into consideration at societies across
the country with thousands of members. Considering the international
nature of research and the importance of U.S. standards internationally,
the matter likely will draw international attention as well.
science media also are weighing in as well. In addition to articles
on changes in the committees, the journal Science, the publication
of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published
an editorial against stacking the committees.
Lancet, a leading British medical journal, stepped into the debate
Nov. 12 when it published an editorial against the practice that
was co-authored by 10 professors from a half-dozen U.S. universities.
debate on the politicalization of science is only going to get bigger.
there is a fight going on at the National Cancer Institute over
a Web page by NCI that suggested research was inconclusive on a
link between abortion and increased risk of breast cancer. Anti-abortion
activists are asserting there is a link and pushing -- even suing
-- to have doctors inform their patients of this.
replaced the Web page with another that said data on a link is "inconsistent,"
a move a dozen other congressmen then protested in writing. Both
sides claim to have the research data on their side. NCI is planning
a meeting in 2003 to review this and related issues.
also are sure to be taking aim next year at proposed climate change
charges of funding more research as a way to delay any meaningful
action, the Bush administration recently trotted out a dozen top
officials to ask scientists for help. The scientists are supposed
to help them set policy to combat global warming.
stressing all the uncertainties surrounding the global warming issue,
the officials unveiled a draft study plan, which noticeably follows
research suggestions made by the National Research Council in its
assessment of a 2001 report from the United Nations.
so noticeable, however, is any research on the sensitive political
question of the future use of fossil fuels -- something suggested
by the National Research Council. The plan is due to be released
the world's climate or U.S. health policy, at stake in these debates
are the fundamental values of science itself. Everyone expects politicians
to shade the truth and the media often are viewed with a jaded eye.
however, have enjoyed a greater trust from the public, which believes
its allegiance is to finding facts, not favor. To the degree the
science community allows its craft to be bent to the will of politics,
they -- and we all -- will lose.