It's a sad commentary on the current politicization of science that the latest example sounds like a dog-bites-man story----as in, what else is new? Still, the fact that 889 of 1,586 staff scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency say they've experienced political interference in their work over the last five years, as a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists being released today finds, is enough to make you despair for the state of policy-relevant science in this country.
In previous UCS investigations, scientists at the Food and Drug Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and climate scientists at seven federal agencies reported that Bush administration officials had manipulated the results of their research, such as by calling global warming a theory, playing down its potential impact and altering scientific reports concluding that particular species are endangered.
At EPA, there have been allegations (which Congress is investigating) that the administration overruled staff scientists on California's request to regulate vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases, and on scientific findings about the ground-level ozone pollution standard. Rep. Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been documenting the administration's manipulation of science for political ends since 2003. In a hearing today, he is getting testimony about abstinence-only sex education, an area where the administration has been less than forthright when it comes to measuring how well such programs work.
In the UCS report, 889 scientists said they had personally experienced at least one instance of political interference in their work over the last five years, 394 experienced "statements by EPA officials that misrepresent scientists' findings," and 285 experienced "selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome." That's when the scientists reach a conclusion, and the political appointees not only ignore it but twist it. Also, 224 scientists said they had been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document." Why haven't the scientists spoken up more? 492 (31 percent) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382 (24 percent) felt they could not do so outside the agency. Half said they couldn't talk to reporters.
Bill Hirzy, an EPA senior scientist and union official, put it this way: "Too many EPA scientists have had to fight interference from political or private sector interests and fear retaliation for speaking out."