“Wrong and misleading” is how Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger described a recent Union of Concerned Scientists report criticizing the scientific integrity of the Bush administration. In a detailed 20-page response to Congress and an accompanying summary released to the public on 2 April, the administration refuted point by point the UCS’s claims (see http://www.ostp.gov). “I hope this response will correct errors, distortions, and misunderstandings in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ document,” he said. “The bottom line is that we have a strong and healthy science enterprise in this country of which I am proud to be a part.”
The UCS report, which came out in February, cited scores of incidents in which the UCS claims the administration distorted science for political purposes (see Physics Today, Physics Today 0031-9228 57
Within days of the report’s release, Marburger, who headed Brookhaven National Laboratory before becoming the president’s science adviser, said that all of the UCS allegations were wrong. He promised a Senate committee a full written response that would refute each of the UCS allegations. “President Bush believes policies should be made with the best and most complete information possible, and expects his Administration to conduct its business with integrity and in a way that fulfills that belief,” Marburger said in the opening statement of his response. “I can attest from my personal experience and direct knowledge that this Administration is implementing the President’s policy of strongly supporting science and applying the highest scientific standards in decision-making.”
Climate change, one of the most contentious issues in the science-versus-politics debate, was addressed in the UCS report. The report said that “the Bush administration has consistently sought to undermine the public’s understanding of the view held by the vast majority of climate scientists that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases are making a discernible contribution to global warming.” The UCS report provides a list of references, including statements as recent as last December by Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, to support their case. Marburger countered those claims, arguing that “President Bush clearly acknowledged [in a Rose Garden 11 June 2001 speech] the role of human activity in increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. And the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the increase is due in large part to human activity…. This administration has sought to strengthen, not undermine” the role of science, he said.
In addressing another controversial climate incident described in the UCS report, Marburger said the Environmental Protection Agency dropped a short chapter on global warming from its 2003 draft report on the environment because officials knew a much more detailed report would be coming out only a month later.
Marburger’s explanation, said Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the UCS board of directors, “is not plausible. Our report explains in detail why that chapter was dropped. The White House ordered the [EPA] officials to censor that chapter to an extent that the EPA refused to publish it.” The incident first appeared in the New York Times, Gottfried said, and was based on a leaked EPA memorandum about the White House censorship efforts. Other government officials have since confirmed the events took place, he added.
“The climate scientists didn’t have to be told [by the UCS] what was going on,” said Gottfried. “They, of course, were on top of it. It was the same case with public health and nuclear weapons experts. The signers [of the statement] were very aware of the situation in their own field and neighboring fields.” He added that the scientists’ suspicions were supported by reports that first appeared either in the popular press or in scientific journals. What was striking, said Gottfried, was that the UCS report pulled together the claims of information manipulation and misuse of science into one document. Until that was done, he said, many scientists “may not have been fully aware of the extent and depth of this.”
Marburger also described as “highly offensive” the UCS report’s suggestion that Richard Russell, OSTP deputy director for technology, is not qualified for his position. The UCS report says that although Russell has an undergraduate degree in biology, he has no graduate or professional training in science, nor any experience in a technology-related industry.
Marburger said that he nominated Russell and the American Association of Engineering Societies endorsed the selection. The UCS report included a “highly unfortunate and totally unjustified personal attack on a Senate-confirmed official in my office,” Marburger said. “The attack appears to be based on a lack of understanding of the function of my office and the qualities that are required to perform them properly. Given the ease with which this ignorance could have been rectified, it is inexcusable.”
Many members of the scientific community wondered how Marburger could defend Bush’s science policy. Neal Lane, President Bill Clinton’s science adviser and a former director of NSF, said Marburger has “done a good job of explaining the administration’s position on the issues we raised in the statement. He has no choice but to defend the administration’s actions.” Lane, one of the signatories of the statement accompanying the UCS report, said that the administration’s response “does raise some questions that will need further investigation. On the most serious matters, however, I did not see anything new in the administration’s response.”