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Profit over Science

by Bob Long Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2004 at 6:20 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

"The shortsighted criminality of capitalist society is clear. Mentally deficient and motor handicapped babies will be born becauwse the political state is an instrument of powerful industrial interests.."

PROFIT OVER SCIENCE

By Bob Lang

[This article was published in: The New Unionist, July/August 2004.]

“Science, like any field of endeavor, relies on freedom of inquiry; and one of the hallmarks of that freedom is objectivity. Now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research to genetic engineering to food additives, government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidelines.”

The foregoing is a statement made by President Bush. No, it was not made by George W. Bush but rather by his father, President George H.W. Bush, on April 23, 1990.

Now, however, the administration’s misuse of science has become so blatant, pervasive and even dangerous that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has produced a document titled “Scientific Integrity in Policymaking – An Investigation into the Bush Administration’s Misuse of Science.”

By February 18 it was endorsed by over 60 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates. The other signers included medical experts, former government agency directors, and university chairs and presidents. Signing is still continuing and can be done at the UCS web site, www.ucsusa.org. By May 19 it had over 3,000 scientists sign on, including the author of this article.

The complete document is large and cites specific examples. It can be found at the UCS web page. An introductory portion follows:

“When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions. This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees, by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.”

Some of the specific areas in which the document gives details that show the distortion, manipulation and misuse of science are:

Global warming, mercury in the environment, reproductive health issues, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, airborne bacteria from farm wastes, Iraq’s aluminum tubes, the Endangered Species Act, forest management, lead poisoning, workplace safety, drug abuse, nuclear weapons and arms controls panels.

Only two of these, global warming and mercury in the environment, will be considered in some detail below to illustrate what is going on.

Global warming is a matter whose seriousness has been distorted and minimized by the administration.

Scientists who have studied the subject have essentially unanimously agreed that global warming is real and has resulted from human activity. If left unchecked it will lead to more and more melting of continental icecaps and glaciers, thus raising the sea level and inundating low-lying areas around the world that are home to large numbers of people and wildlife. Continued temperature rise, if it once reaches a point beyond which it cannot be reversed, could jeopardize all life on the planet.

Global warming has resulted from the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The most pervasive of these is carbon dioxide that is produced when fossil fuels are burned.

But any cutback on the combustion of carbon-dioxide substances would threaten the economic activity of industrial nations and the profits of corporations to which government administrations are closely tied.

Thus the problem has been ignored, downplayed and confused in the public mind as much as possible. Clean energy sources such as solar and wind, which do not depend on fossil fuels and which do not produce greenhouse gases, have been given little encouragement.

When coming into office the Bush administration asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to evaluate the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The NAS fully corroborated the IPCC work. Furthermore, the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest organization of earth scientists, also came out with a strong statement about the seriousness of the problem.

In spite of all this scientific consensus, the administration continued to insist that the data were insufficient and too uncertain to take any measures to lessen emissions. The State Department had put out a report to the United Nations pointing out the human role in producing heat-trapping gasses and the serious problems of global warming, Bush contemptuously dismissed it as “a report put out by the bureaucracy.”

In September 2002 the administration removed the section on climate change in the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual report on air pollution. For the previous five years there had been a section on the climate question.

Again in 2003, the administration sought to make a number of changes in the EPA’s draft Report on the Environment for 2003. It wanted to remove a thousand-year climate record and substitute a discredited short-term record funded by the American Petroleum Institute that the administration felt bolstered its contentions. According to an EPA internal memo, the White House wanted to insert so many qualifying words such as “potentially” and “may” that uncertainty was introduced “where there is essentially none.”

Finally, rather than release a document containing false information, the EPA removed the entire section on global warming.

This gross attempt to manipulate the text of a scientific document caused a great deal of comment. Russell Train, who was EPA administrator under Presidents Nixon and Ford, was so incensed that he wrote a letter to the New York Times saying the “interest of the American people lies in having full disclosure of the facts.

“In all my time at the EPA, I don’t recall any regulatory decision that was driven by political considerations. More to the present point, never once, to my best recollection, did either the Nixon or Ford White House ever try to tell me how to make a decision.”

This behavior of the administration is not an isolated incident. It is a pattern. To pick one more incident out of many there is the question of mercury in the environment.

New standards are needed to regulate mercury emissions by coal-fired power plants, which are the major source of this air pollution that amounts to about 48 tons annually for this nation alone. Mercury is a dangerous poison for animal life. One effect in particular is as a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage to developing fetuses in humans and wildlife.

But no matter. The Bush people reflect the profit interests of the owners of the power plants and resist any regulations that would cut down mercury release and which might interfere with profits.

In May 2002 the EPA was preparing a document about the effects of the environment on the health of children, which included information about mercury. The White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy began a lengthy review of the document.

After nine months nothing had happened. A frustrated EPA employee then leaked the draft report to the Wall Street Journal, which revealed the 8% of women between the ages of 16 and 49 have mercury levels in their blood that could reduce the Iqs and motor skills of any offspring.

Four days after the leak was published the document was released to the public. The inference is that were it not for the leak the report may have stayed buried in the White House because it contained information unfavorable to the administration’s industry position.

Investigative reporters at the Los Angeles Times found that political appointees at the EPA bypassed the professional and scientific staff in putting forth the new mercury regulations.

The proposed new mercury rules released by the EPA were found to have at least 12 paragraphs lifted, in some instances almost verbatim, from a legal document prepared by the power industry lawyers. Even the EPA’s enforcement branch did not see the new rules before they were released. They were drawn up at the White House, completely bypassing EPA experts.

The shortsighted criminality of capitalist society in this matter is clear. Mentally deficient and motor handicapped babies will be born because the political state is an instrument of powerful industrial interests, rather than the representative of most of the nation’s people.

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