Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the School of Natural Resources and
Environment, has signed a statement severely criticizing the Bush
administration’s record on science.

Bierbaum joins 62 prominent scientists who have signed the
statement, including 20 Nobel Prize winners and 19 winners of the
National Medal of Science.

The statement claims the Bush administration “has often
manipulated the process through which science enters into its
decisions.”

“Furthermore,” the statement continues, “in
advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the
administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge
and misled the public.”

White House Science Advisor John Marburger said, “I
don’t think that these incidents or issues add up to strong
support for the accusation that this administration is deliberately
acting to undermine the processes of science,” according to a
Knight-Ridder report.

But, Marburger added, “given the prestige of some of the
individuals who have signed on to this, I think they deserve
additional response and we’re coordinating
something.”

The signatories include experts on human health, national
security and other scientific fields who have held advisory
position in previous administrations. Bierbaum said the scientists
were brought together to help write the statement by the Union of
Concerned Scientists, an action group that issued the statement and
a supporting document.

The UCS called upon Bierbaum — who served four years as
the senior environmental advisor for former President Bill Clinton
and another 10 months under Bush — as an expert on climate
change and the environment.

“A lot of us were hearing about problems in the particular
area where we are experts,” Bierbaum said. “What (the
UCS) decided to do was get all of us together and talk about
whether we really did think this was more systematic and pervasive
than before.”

The attendees, she said, concluded that the answer was
“Yes.”

“We all felt comfortable signing on to (the statement) and
thought that because it covered many areas of science, that it made
a compelling case that this was in fact pervasive and
unprecedented,” she said.

Geological sciences Prof. Henry Pollack, who also studies
climate change, said he was glad to see a faculty member from the
University among the signatories. “I’m pleased to see
it, … (Bierbaum) is a great spokesperson for a wide range of
science.”

Pollack said of the statement, “It’s been long in
coming. How much attention or use the current administration makes
of science has been questioned for a long time.”

The statement and supporting document list numerous cases of
alleged misuse of science for political gain by the Bush
administration.

In one example, the Bush administration dismissed several highly
qualified scientific experts from an advisory committee on
childhood lead poisoning. The dismissal occurred just prior to a
meeting where the committee planned to discuss tightening lead
standards.

The experts were replaced by at least two new appointees with
financial ties to the lead industry, and by three others who were
likely to oppose tougher lead standards, according to the
document.

“It sure looks like (they’re) stacking the deck with
people who share (their) ideology,” Bierbaum said.

In Bierbaum’s own field of expertise, the administration
pressured the Environmental Protection Agency to make extensive
changes to a report on climate change — including removing
scientific graphs on global warming and deleting all references to
a National Academy of Sciences report that concluded that human
activity influences climate.

The EPA eventually decided to drop the section on global warming
from the report, “rather than compromising their credibility
by misrepresenting the scientific consensus,” according to
the UCS document.

Bierbaum said she found it frustrating trying to communicate
scientific information to the administration. “During that
time it was quite clear what they thought of climate science
— that is, very little. They simply didn’t want to hear
my views.”

Yet for Bierbaum, the problems span far more than just climate
science. She was especially concerned, she said, about health
issues ignored or misrepresented by the Bush administration. For
instance, the administration placed statements on the Health and
Human Services website claiming condoms do not prevent sexually
transmitted diseases and that breast cancer is linked to abortion,
she said.

“Both of these (statements) have no founding, as the
health community tells me, in science,” Bierbaum said.
“Yet I would argue could actually harm humans who read that
and assume these ‘facts’ are true.”

Bierbaum said she believes policy should be based both on what
is politically and scientifically feasible, but that scientific
facts should not be distorted.

“I think free and open exchange of information and
informed debate about real data is the best way to move the country
forward.”

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