Facing a Democratic Congress about to hold hearings exposing a “Republican war on science,” President Bush did what for him was instinctive. He quietly shoved his executive authority up the public’s nose by ordering every science-based regulatory office in government to be run by a political appointee.
There is a temptation to call Bush a sore loser, or worse, citing this executive order as one more example of ideology trumping evidence. The stripping of authority from expert civil servants will delay effecting any controversial rule or regulation that might protect the public health at the expense of industry and will outright kill others, the facts be damned.
There is one positive effect, however. It reminds us that most scientific research is paid for by the public and that in a democracy politicians have every right to determine how science ought to be used. The president may politicize the civil service — at his peril — and congressional opponents may raise hell and defund certain offices — at theirs.
It is perfectly acceptable for politicians to say, “We have examined the scientific evidence on this question and have weighed it against other concerns of our constituencies and public interests in making this policy.” It is not acceptable for them to arbitrarily change standards of evidence to favor their ideological or campaign contributors’ interests. Otherwise, science will become a set of truths subject to change every four years.