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Scientists Decry Political Interference 248

Posted by Zonk
from the keep-your-hand-out-of-the-till dept.
RamblingMan writes "According to the BBC, the American Union of Concerned Scientists has put out a statement about the misrepresentation of date and a list of such interference by the U.S. government in scientific research. Besides the usual slew of Nobel Laureate signatories, they provide a number of examples besides the well-known example of the EPA's Global Warming Report." From the BBC article: "'It's very difficult to make good public policy without good science, and it's even harder to make good public policy with bad science,' said Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. 'In the last several years, we've seen an increase in both the misuse of science and I would say an increase of bad science in a number of very important issues; for example, in global climate change, international peace and security, and water resources.'"
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Scientists Decry Political Interference

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  • According to the BBC, the American Union of Concerned Scientists has put out a statement about the misrepresentation of date and a list of such interference by the U.S. government in scientific research.

    What do you expect from a man who can't even pronounce "Nuclear" properly? Honestly?
    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`Satanicpuppy' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:43PM (#17245854) Journal
      Don't pretend like it just started now...People have been twisting science to meet political/economic ends for as long as there has been science. Admittedly, the Shrub administration is hugely anti-intellectual, but that just means that their bad science is more obvious.

      Frankly as long as there is money/power at stake where scientific findings are concerned, there will be biased, skewed science. Scientists are no less susceptible to bribes and threats, and no less prone to intellectual whoredom than regular people.
      • by Slur (61510) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @06:02PM (#17246160) Homepage Journal
        Erm... Actually, no. In general scientists are far less prone to intellectual whoredom than regular people.

        I think if you look into this issue more closely you'll find that the issue is not corruption of scientists, but misuse and misrepresentation of their findings.

        No scientist who acts as you imply could long remain employed as a scientist. The moment he (or she) published his (or her) findings that would be pretty much the end of it. Every published scientific study of any wide interest is peer-reviewed, scrutinized, and confirmed or refuted by many other scientists. Whenever a scientist is found to be massaging data he gets peer-reviewed into oblivion and his reputation is forever screwed. These are known in the business as "flaps" and you can find many examples of them.

        Just on the practical level, consider how scientists operate in the real world. Scientists rarely work alone, and rarely are they the only individual looking into a class of phenomena. So frankly, one lone scientist with an agenda in a research group couldn't have much of an effect. You'd have to get a whole team of rogue scientists -- not an easy thing to do since Doctor Evil recruited them all to his research team back in the 60's.

        In science there are few, if any, Karl Rove's. However, in politics there are plenty of reptiles anxious to suppress, distort, downplay, and misrepresent scientific findings. So this is what you get: Lackeys inserted at NASA to curtail serious climate research; findings reports edited and suppressed by the corporations that fund the research.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by melikamp (631205)

          Are you kidding me? It varies field by field, and some fields are much more susceptible to what the GP is describing. Political, medical, language science, economics, and history (just to name a few) are ones obviously influenced by all kinds of cultural and political biases. And don't tell me that these are not "real" sciences, for in each of these fields one can apply the scientific method. The only bogus science today, I think, is psychology. (Flame away, that's not my point.)

          Just on the practical lev

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by TapeCutter (624760)
            "And don't tell me that these are not "real" sciences"

            Ok, I will tell you that they are "humanities" or "social science", sure science can be used on them (mainly statistical math such as epedimiology studies) but there tends to be alot of speculation about what the stats mean with no few tests available to differentiate between speculations (theories), especially in areas like history and politics.

            The problem is not science as such, the scientific method is the best thing we have for understanding th
        • by HiThere (15173) * <charleshixsn@ear ... net minus author> on Thursday December 14, 2006 @07:38PM (#17247458)
          You overestimate the integrity of scientists and the degree of peer-review. Still, the basic point is sound, if somewhat over-stated.

          It needs to be remembered that government isn't the only, or the most flagrant, abuser of scientific research. Commercial firms are, if anything, worse (on the average).

          Also, there's a culture against the reporting of negative findings. These are just as important as positive findings, but they don't tend to qualify for publication OR for alternate forms of public exposure and preservation.

          Things aren't very rosy. Computer science is, perhaps, one of the purest forms of science around. This is partially because of it's strong footing in mathematics, but even more strongly because it's easy and cheap to check out revealed algorithms and procedures. The GPL is one solid foundation here. It ensures the publication of significant results. (Negative results are still not recorded or revealed.) I tend to think of the GPL as the scientific ethos solidified into a legal structure.

        • by chromozone (847904) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @08:17PM (#17247894)
          I don't think your familiar with pharmaceutical studies. The drug companies pay for "independent" academic research and pretty much get the results they want. This is why congress and the FDA have had to back-track and issue warning on drugs already declared "safe". We just got another this week. The corruption can be hard to find on the surface. When prozac was studied for teen saftey the kids who suffered the worst side effects during "Activation" had to drop out of the study they weren't even counted in end results. A lot of scientists and universities aren't independent at all. Corporate money is behind a lot of "research" these days and its easy to see a lot of "research" has been created just to serve as marketing - it's a facade. The academicians, politicians and corporations often change hats. The university researcher who plays nice gets the corporate or political appointment. Bad science is everywhere. They hardly try to even hide it anymore.
        • by Black-Man (198831) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @09:00PM (#17248310)
          Go to the "concerned scientists" website. For an organization that decries political interference, they sure have a lot of political commentary. Yawn.

      • by melikamp (631205)
        May be that's why I am studying pure math...
      • by zstlaw (910185) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @06:21PM (#17246460)

        That may be true but it was taken to new (heights/depths) by the current administration.

        When the current administration came into power and were looking for a executive to head the CDC they replaced the Nobel laureate whom was the current director. And the interview where he was removed consisted of two questions. (Second hand from a former director at Center for Disease Control)

        1) Are you a republican
        2) Did you vote for this president.

        That explains just about everything you need to know about our current administration folks. That is the same treatment the military and other branches of government received. It helped push the administrations policies, but the person who was selected was completely incompetent. (Think FEMA) But the only criteria the administration cared about was loyalty. This absolutely destroyed the CDC. New policies included bureaucratic overview of what was considered publishable and bureaucrats deciding certain studies were flawed despite no experience in the field.

        Essentially the scientists were told what results they were required to give and had to conduct studies to prove them. Pretty much all of the top scientists fled so they could actually continue doing science. The CDC parking lot is almost deserted these days. And this is one of the most important scientific establishments in the nation. (The rest of the National institute of health received similar "adjustments")

      • Scientists are no less susceptible to bribes and threats, and no less prone to intellectual whoredom than regular people. should start with "modern publically/govt. funded scientists". Modern "science", since just before WWII (if you have to put a threshold somewhere) was too dependant on government grants, which (surprize!) were funnelled to things having military/national pride/ national "happiness" applications (in that order).

        Before that time the great minds who called themselves "scientists" were most
    • by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:53PM (#17246018) Homepage
      I'd like to point out that Carter also pronounced it "Nucular", and he went to the Navy's nuke school.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745)
        Of all the stupid stuff he does, it is realy a waste of time to talk about how he pronounces Nuclear.
        • by Slur (61510)
          Exactly. Bush rushed the US into a useless war for fictitious reasons. Carter authorized the funding of a genocidal war against the people of East Timor. Neither of these actions had anything to do with their pronunciation of nuclear ...

          However, one wonders if their disregard for linguistic aesthetics implies a corollary disregard for truth and beauty.
    • by RexRhino (769423)
      What do YOU expect when you support a system of nationalized government science funding where a single political entity headed by man who can't pronounce "Nuclear" is in charge of science funding?

      All that money that comes from the federal government for research, comes at a price. If you take the King's gold, you do what the King says! That's why they call it "selling out"!
  • No response from the International Quango of Massively Disinterested Mad Scientists yet, it appears.
  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:29PM (#17245614)
    No, its about the misrepresentation of data.

    And, on that note, when thinking of misrepresentation, the phrase "Slasdhot editor" comes to mind.
    • by kwerle (39371)
      Lucky for me I don't have mod points. Otherwise I'd be torn between Funny, Insightful, and Just Plain Sad.
  • by moerty (1030150) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:29PM (#17245618)
    science goes wherever the government sees a critical priority, unfortunately nowadays many governments are controlled by money interests, this is what's really interfering in the relationship between science/politics.
    • by syphax (189065) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:36PM (#17245742) Journal

      Funding certain areas of scientific research instead of others is one thing; actively suppressing or ignoring the results of said research is entirely another. The executive branch has some control over what gets researched, and I'm basically OK with that; what I'm not OK with is the government's control of the results.

      • The executive branch has some control over what gets researched, and I'm basically OK with that; what I'm not OK with is the government's control of the results.


        Exactly. With every other country, this topic would have spawned numerous "OMG fascists!!one" replies. MPU!

      • by Doctor Memory (6336) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @06:28PM (#17246540)

        The executive branch has some control over what gets researched, and I'm basically OK with that;
        I would be if it was done fairly, or at least rationally. Refusing to fund a US$30B fusion reactor because the money isn't available is understandable, refusing to permit a prominent US engineer to participate on an international standards committee because he made a donation to a political party other than the one currently occupying the White House is not. Yet this is just what the current administration is doing [ppionline.org].
      • by twiddlingbits (707452) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @07:15PM (#17247146)
        I still can't believe the lack of knowledge on here (oops..wait this IS Slashdot..home of the ignorant and anonymous) about how the US Government works. The executive branch has little control over what gets researched. The LEGISLATIVE branch writes and funds ALL the Bills that provide the funds for Government research, if they don't like it they won't fund it (aka "it died in committie"). The "fourth branch" aka The Agencies have a great deal of control over what they PROPOSE to Congress to get funding in the budget requests they submit each year that get turned into Bills that are then funded (Authorization and Appropriations process). It is true the Exec Branch gets to name the heads of the Agencies but Congress confirms them and the long-term civil servants at the mid-levels really run the Agencies. Yes, the President also sends a "Budget" to Congress but that really has no bearing on what gets passed and most of the time the numbers are not real. Oh, and don't forget all the "pork" your Senator or Representative slips into the Bills. Having been the recipient of some "pork" when I was at NASA so I can tell you how the pig gets born, raised, slaughtered and sent to market.
    • "nowadays many governments are controlled by money interests"

      Ah, for the Good Old Days, when governments were controlled by the Fluffy Bunny Lovers' interests...

      I love fluffy bunnies.
  • It amazes me... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bogaboga (793279) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:32PM (#17245670)
    "According to the BBC, the American Union of Concerned Scientists has put out a statement about the misrepresentation of date and a list of such interference by the U.S. government in scientific research.

    Even when the press puts such statements up for rebuttal to our president, he goes around the question, dodging it and then says "...we have a lot of work to do for the American people..."

  • by Dan Slotman (974474) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:35PM (#17245728)
    Science has been a contentious subject throughout history. Whereas in the past science was misused and constrained by the church, today it has been co-opted by politics. Scientific progress has continued nevertheless. I believe that scientists will continue to discover new and exciting things about the physical world regardless of the representation or supression of their discoveries. This is especially true when viewed from a global perspective.
    • by gammoth (172021)

      What you say is true, however, I don't want the government ignoring the dangers of mercury. We're not talking about discovering planets in other solar systems.

    • This is especially true when viewed from a global perspective.

      That's an interesting point. In the second half of the last century, the US has invested passively in science, and done very well from it. A lot of scientist have moved to the US, attracted by a big research budget. I've thought about it. But as political interference increases, we'll start moving somewhere else instead - the science goes on. But what will be the effect for the United States?
    • Please don't confuse the practice of science with the use of scientists' results. Science itself isn't contentious--it's pretty straightforward from the layman's standpoint at least (money and dorky-looking people go in; data eventually comes out). How people INTERPRET and USE the science that we do is what's contentious.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @06:19PM (#17246434) Homepage
      Whereas in the past science was misused and constrained by the church, today it has been co-opted by politics.

      Note that when the church was constraining science was when the church was at its most powerful politically, thus making it pretty much the same as being co-opted by politics.

      It is the nature of politics -- whether the political power is exercised by democratic governments or theocratic religious institutions -- to view everything as a tool through which to pursue the politician's objectives. Rarely if ever are things like science used to define the objective. The result is that if the science says something that goes against the political objective, then it is the science that must change.

      While you're right to observe that science goes on regardless, and scientific progress is made, that isn't the point. The point is that today, right now, there are decisions being made that could use the information provided by science to produce a better decision. Instead, the decision is being made first, and the science is either being ignored or twisted to support that decision. The result is beneficial for the politicians, and usually detrimental to everyone else.

      If you ever needed a practical example of how facts should aid the definition of policy, rather than policy causing the redefinition of facts, simply look at Iraq. Is it yet obvious the difference between somebody's belief as to what the answer should be irrespective of facts vs the answer suggested by the real facts has profound consequences? It was the policy of the administration that the Iraqis would welcome us with roses, Democracy would flourish, and Iraq would become a shining example of hope in the Middle East. It was strongly suggested by the facts that nobody welcomes invaders, chaos would flourish particularly if there was no plan to prevent it, and Iraq would become a disaster. Today, as we struggle to come up with a plausible way of preventing the worst-case scenarios that the policy said were impossible, I think the dangers of ignoring the politicization of science are apparent.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Slur (61510)
        It was the policy of the administration that the Iraqis would welcome us with roses, Democracy would flourish, and Iraq would become a shining example of hope in the Middle East.

        Actually, for the record, that was simply the last in a long line of sales pitches that the administration put before the American People, and since it stuck they've continued to act as if it was the point all along.

        It should be obvious by now (and frankly it was pretty obvious then) that they never really had any interest in this a
    • >I believe that scientists will continue to discover new and exciting things about the physical world

      But those will no longer benefit the society where the scientists and we live.

      Check Wikipedia for "Lysenko". He had genetic theories that fit the USSR's government's agenda, but which were also uterly bogus. Scientists who kept talking about data instead of toeing the Party line had their careers ruined. Then the government tried to apply his theories to agriculture.

      Here and in the old USSR this was part
    • by RexRhino (769423)
      What if the Church provided most of the funding for science, regulated science, etc.. Science would have never escaped the control of the church, it would have stagnated. Fortunatly, so much science was being done outside church institutions, and science continued and thrived.

      Now the government provides most of the funding for science, regulates science, etc. As long as science is controlled and funded by the political system, it must first and foremost serve the political goals of whatever the ruling party
    • by jesterzog (189797)

      Whereas in the past science was misused and constrained by the church, today it has been co-opted by politics.

      At least at the US Federal level, I'm not sure there's much difference between the church and politics. Perhaps with a slightly different hierarchy, but sometimes the motivations seem similar.

  • All Scientists (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Itchyeyes (908311)
    While I certainly don't approve of the way the current administration treats scientific research, the article seems to imply that it is bad for all science. No doubt the administration has hindered progress in areas that clash with its politics, such as climate change. However, there are plenty of areas not so politically turbulent that operate without interference. There are probably even some areas of scientific research that have benefited from the Bush administration, petroleum geology for instance.
  • by Zygote-IC- (512412) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @05:51PM (#17245986) Homepage
    Ok, climate change, acid rain, extinction of species, water resources, peak oil, blah blah blah -- I'll grant that's the domain of science.

    But international peace?

    The Israelis and Palestinians hate one another -- what role does science play in that?

    "Well, after looking under the microscope, we now see that they don't hate one another."

    Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for science!

    Let me know when science can solve the problem of people hating one another for generations upon generations -- oh, and when they can go MMORPG cheater and dupe Taiwan so that China finally will shut up -- then I'll be impressed.
    • by Slur (61510) on Thursday December 14, 2006 @06:07PM (#17246244) Homepage Journal
      The Israelis and Palestinians hate one another -- what role does science play in that?

      Science must do its part in designing efficient LSD / Psilocybin aerosol distribution drones for weekly fly-overs of the entire Middle East until everyone chills the fuck out. That's the role I envision.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by abb3w (696381)

      The Israelis and Palestinians hate one another -- what role does science play in that?

      Psychological experiments, including measurements of brain activity using NMRI gear, indicate that humans are more rationalizing than rational. I believe there's also been research which indicates deep-seated beliefs seldom undergo significant change after the age of thirty. This would suggest that any policy based on the assumption that local stability (without genocide) is likely in a scale less than decades is compl

      • by Vancorps (746090)

        Very nice reply, I personally wouldn't have been thinking in that direction but crop production and water management are two key issues in the middle east as well and science has a huge role to play there. It is interesting how many people think science is around to solve technical issues alone and ignore the impact it has had on our lives personally, emotionally, and geographically. Traveling from one end of the U.S. to the other and back again for Christmas has done a lot to keep my close with my family w

        • by tobe (62758)
          Are you aware that Israel is, for the largest part, self-sufficient in food production. Net importer of beef I think. Not much else.
  • This is just the next natural refinement of the scientific method:

    Science + Truthiness = Scienciness

    Scienciness gives us more consistent and reassuring results than that old-fashioned science. The old stuff is for pessimists and gloom-and-doomers. The optimists in this country will not let such negative attitudes hold back progress and growth.

  • A science topic, and there's only one mention of the word "evolution" in it at this point, and zero "creationism". Has /. evolved or something?
  • up an Oregon logging road.

    If you can't get your research out, with all the internet blogs, money being spent on global warming campaigns, proposed tax hikes, mailing lists, protests, PBS specials, you've got bigger problems than a republican congress.

  • Just like there is (or at least, there is supposed to be) a strict seperation between church and state, there should be the same strict seperation between science and state. OF COURSE scientists who work for the government are going to be pressured to come up with results that reinforce the policies of the ruling party - that is how politics work! Remove the politics from science, by making sure institutionally they are in no way connected.

    The only change that has been happening recently is that science is
  • Will politicians stop interfering with science when scientists stop interfering with politics?

    Take for example, the pressure from scientists to implement the Kyoto protocol. A decision on whether or not to implement the Kyoto protocol is surely outside the domain of science, as it is a decision that must weight scientific data on the likely outcomes of global warming against non-scientific data on the economic effects of the Kyoto protocol. Do scientists have the advisors to balance the former against the

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