The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

Posted on December 14, 2006  Comments (3)

The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

The United States government bears great responsibility for keeping our environment clean and Americans healthy and safe. And while science is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should be objective and impartial.

In recent years, however, scientists who work for and advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, distorted, while agencies have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information. To document this abuse, the Union of Concerned Scientists has created the A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science.

In 2004, 62 renowned scientists and science advisors signed a scientist statement on scientific integrity, denouncing political interference in science and calling for reform. On December 9, 2006, UCS released the names of more than 10,000 scientists of all backgrounds from all 50 states—including 52 Nobel Laureates—who have since joined their colleagues on this statement.

It is important for the public to have access to type of information. There will always be areas of intersection between science and politics. And there is a role for politicians in science policy. However, covering up data and attempts to promote unscientific conclusions from data, in order to serve political ends, is something that should be condemned. Certainly many will seek to turn political disagreements into condemnation of the opposition, so the mere accusation is not the important factor – the important factor is the evidence of wrongdoing. Then the facts should be debated.

My belief is that improving the science and engineering infrastructure of a country (which includes promoting open and honest debate of scientific data and a culture that discourages political suppression scientific data) is very important for economic well being. And with so many countries moving forward to take advantage of this opportunity to improve their economies if a country fights to suppress science it will pay the price.

How much public money to devote to science and engineering fellowships is a political decision that greatly impacts science. Exactly what laws should be adopted to slow global warming is a political decision. The problem is not that politics and science can’t interact but how that interaction takes place.

Related: Phony Science Gap?Diplomacy and Science ResearchResearcher Provides Undisclosed Data to FDAChina’s Economic Science Experiment

While the engineering credentials of China’s leadership is noted often, it is still interesting to note that China’s 9 most senior government officials are all engineers. A Technocrat Riding a Wild Tiger:

When China’s leaders meet with Hu each week in Beijing’s government district, Zhongnanhai, they could spend hours discussing cables, switches, tool-making machines and control devices. That’s because every one of them has a degree in engineering. The president himself, the son of a tea merchant from Jiangsu Province, trained to build hydroelectric power stations, while the others hold degrees in electrical engineering, metallurgy and geology.

That has got to make a difference: having lawyers or engineers thinking about what the value of science is.

3 Responses to “The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science”

  1. CuriousCat: Scientists Denounce Global Warming Report ‘Edits’
    October 25th, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

    “The original, unedited testimony presented to Congress by Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and obtained by ABC News was 14 pages long, but the White House Office of Management and Budget edited the final version down to a mere six pages…”

  2. Curious Cat: Scientists on Changing Their Minds
    February 24th, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

    It is important for some scientists to take on other important rolls in society – political leaders, popular authors, business leaders, government officials (regulators etc.), political commentators…

  3. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Prevent Research
    February 22nd, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    […] The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science – Protecting the Food Supply – USDA’s failure to protect the food supply – Ethanol: Science […]

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