Science and the President

Is Bush science's nemesis? Or are we being unreasonably rough on his record?

Richard Gallagher
Oct 1, 2006

This month's cover story caused more debate among the editorial team at The Scientist than any other in my time here. We had consensus on the topic: Just how bad is George Bush for science? We also agreed on the timing: the October issue, just preceding the US midterm elections on the 7th of November. These elections are often considered to be a barometer of presidential leadership and a good predictor of the presidential elections two years later.

The divisions opened up over our expectations for the story. Like many of you, I suspect, I didn't think that this question needed serious consideration. I was fully convinced that Bush has to be the worst-ever US president for the life sciences. And I felt that to make a watertight case all I needed was to quote two examples: Bush's stance on embryonic stem cell research, and global warming.

Others felt that...

Given the evidence, I've altered my view somewhat. The president's views on stem cell research and global warming still really grate, but the shrill, almost hysterical reaction from some quarters appears to be misplaced. Bush's impact will become clear only in years to come, as he once said: "You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you're gone."

A number of possible reasons for the fervor of the anti-Bush reaction are made in the feature. One that caught my attention came from Dan Sarewitz, an expert in the connections between scientific research and social benefit. Sarewitz wonders whether ideological differences outside science are influencing opinion. Scientists are mostly Democrats: Are they being unreasonably rough on the Republican president's science record?

We are putting this to the test in an online survey (www.the-scientist.com/bushpoll) that questions our readers on how George Bush is handling science. The results are displayed live, and we'll publish an analysis on the Web site at the end of the month.

One of the best ways of judging the president (or any politician) would be to get his direct response to queries. This is exactly what "Your Candidates - Your Health" aims to do, and I urge you to visit it in the run-up to the midterm elections (www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org). Created by Research!America and the Lasker Foundation, the idea is to invite all candidates for the US House of Representatives and the US Senate to respond to a series of questions on medical and scientific research-related issues.

Sometimes, challenges to conventional wisdom and the status quo can be parried easily, and the prevailing belief and situation is strengthened. Sometimes, such challenges force you to rethink your views. I hope you are at least provoked by the feature, and we welcome your feedback. Please engage in the discussions on our comment links following every article on our site, and suggest questions of your own that we might pose.

rgallagher@the-scientist.com

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