L.A. Times, July 5, 2005
The altering of reports to fit policies is dismaying:
Commentary on how Bush’s regime is twisting reports, decreasing sustainability and destroying America:
Once again a scientific report has been recast for the sake of political expediency and used as the basis for a federal rule that puts industry profit over the health of people and the environment. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has been happening regularly throughout President Bush’s tenure.
In the most recent case, a government biologist and hydrologist complained that their findings on how cattle grazing damages wildlands were rewritten to produce contrary conclusions. A “significant adverse impact” on wildlife, for instance, somehow became “beneficial to animals.” Then the Bush administration announced that based on these rosy findings, it would relax rules that limit grazing on public lands.
The Bush administration’s efforts to undermine, ignore and edit scientific findings add up to something even more dismaying than the resulting poor public policy. It’s bad enough to push an ill-considered idea — such as increasing budgets for abstinence-only sex education — despite studies that show the idea doesn’t work. Even more disheartening is the rewriting and deletion of scientific truth. It damages the scientific disciplines that have held the rational pursuit of truth above all else and, in that pursuit, have produced technical and medical marvels. This country already faces unprecedented challenges to its scientific supremacy from India, China and Singapore. It’s not going to help the nation’s scientific prestige to downgrade the work U.S. experts do.
The grazing case follows revelations weeks earlier that a former lobbyist for the oil industry, while working for the White House, tinkered with government reports on climate change to make global warming appear a more dubious and trivial phenomenon.
The White House in 2002 barred the release of a report that found levels of mercury in women of childbearing age high enough to damage unborn children. The report was finally released after an Environmental Protection Agency official leaked it. In 2003, a list of environmental problems at Yosemite National Park was deleted from a Park Service report as the administration sought to have the park removed from a list of troubled natural sites.
If the administration wants to make industry-boosting federal policy, it should at least do so without the science fiction. Bush could have acknowledged that the grazing study found significant problems but said he felt the needs of a troubled industry outweighed those concerns — all without altering the findings. He would have been roundly criticized, but he will be anyway. The scientists would feel irrelevant, but at least they wouldn’t see their hard-researched truths fall into a sinkhole of falsehood.
These alterations of inconvenient fact have grown serious and pervasive enough that Congress should act to ensure that government research comes to public light, in its draft as well as final forms, and that government scientists are protected in their efforts to speak out.