Outrageous politicization of science leaves citizens breathless


A report in today’s New York Times
should leave all of us breathless–even if we’ve seen too many similar stories before.

It’s so common that it is almost not even news when a noted scientist employed (or once employed) by the U.S. government (i.e., we the citizens) tells how he or she was muzzled because of findings that conflict with the Bush administration’s agenda.

This time, it is former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, who testified before Congress that he was told to play down a number of topics that concern public health. I won’t mention the most controversial ones, because one item sticks out as particularly damaging
to public health. To quote the Times:

Top administration officials delayed for years and attempted to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand tobacco smoke, he said in sworn testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

That should leave us all, literally, breathless. Then, to make matters worse:

He was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of every speech he gave, Dr. Carmona said. He was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings, at least one of which included Karl Rove, the president’s senior political adviser, he said.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to the Kennedy family.

“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.

In other words, the person in charge of the nation’s health, a person we expect to be free of political pressure in order to speak out on crucial issues, was expected to apply political tests to scientific findings and to take a partisan political role.

And lest you think this blog entry is motivated by my own partisanship, consider the following from the
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/10/AR2007071001422.html>Washington Post report on the same hearing:

[C. Everett] Koop, who served as surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, spoke out on AIDS, despite political pressure not to do so. He said Reagan was pressured to fire him every day — but he did not.

“If he had not been the kind of person he was, I would not be here today,” Koop said.

I, for one, will breathe much more easily when we have an administration in Washington that respects science–no matter what party the President comes from.

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