Is Bush science's nemesis?

Sure, George Bush has joined a line of presidents who, for political gain, act contrary to the best interests of science.1,2 But a full accounting of the Bush administration shows it distinguishes itself from the others in two significant ways: 1) its ruthless political efficiency, and 2) its unwavering moral certitude. The two are tightly linked, and embryonic stem cell research bears the brunt of this holy alliance. Consider Bush's SWAT squad, rappelling into the United Nations in the summer of 2004 as the members were set to vote in support of therapeutic cloning. Guerrilla tactics, including rustling up nay votes from third-world Catholic nations with problems much bigger than stem cells, scuppered the vote.

Christopher Thomas Scott
Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics

Saying that a politician has to balance a number of views, science being one, is not the same as being proscience....

In what sense is Bush's position on embryonic stem cell research "anti-science"? In many areas of research, anyone who wants to do anything with human subjects needs to pass muster with institutional review boards. Are these boards also anti-science? Or are they merely recognition that ethical guidelines need to be in place before experiments can be conducted on human beings? You appear to be putting forward the view that science must be allowed to do anything that it wants to do, and anyone who raises ethical issues is anti-science.

Stuart Buck
Kellogg Huber, PLLC

Scientists like to cry about the fact that "only" tens of billions of our tax dollars are spent on pet projects of often dubious value that are often uncoordinated with other research. Too often scientists want to be above or detached from and immune to review from the very source of their research and paychecks: every plumber, mechanic, waitress, and worker who files taxes each year. It is most astonishing that it must be explained to these learned men and women that we live in a world of finite resources - and to claim that "more and more" is the answer simply because it costs a lot of money to do what they do. Earn it: Prove the essential value of your work, and the money will beat a path to your door.

Bob Jackson, Jr.
San Antonio, Texas

For a president to accept a scientific recommendation, and not consider economic considerations or the morality of certain research is not only out of touch, but also inappropriate. Otherwise, government finds itself authorizing "research" such as the Tuskegee study for the scientific insights it may provide, despite the despicable immorality of sacrificing human subjects to acquire scientific knowledge.

Saying that a politician has to balance a number of views, science being one, is not the same as being proscience. It is one thing for a politician to say, "Yes, I know the reality of the situation, but I have to balance it with this other factor." But it is something totally different for a politician to misrepresent the science in order to satisfy other factions. This is what we are seeing in the Bush administration.

Praising Bush for being the first president to fund stem cell research is like praising the present generation for being the first to buy hybrid vehicles. Previous presidents couldn't have funded stem cell research because there wasn't any significant research being done. Bush actually could be doing a whole lot more to fund it.

Daniel Miller
Laredo, TX

On perhaps the hottest charge laid at the feet of the Bush administration, it is the critics who are ignorant. Few Americans know that "therapeutic cloning" for stem cell research, which the president has been lambasted for opposing by editorialists ad nauseam, and which was featured before the last election in Ron Reagan, Jr.'s infamous speech to the Democratic convention, is a felony in most western countries, including "liberal" Canada (5 years' jail time) and "secular" France (7 years). Even on the more difficult ethical/policy question of embryonic stem cell research using so-called spare embryos, other western nations are divided down the middle: The Canadians allow it under certain circumstances, while the Germans (then under a socialist Chancellor, and at perhaps the lowest ebb of US-German relations since WWII) copied the exact principle of the 2001 Bush funding policy. The day after the President vetoed the effort to overturn his principled funding limitations, Germany asked the European Commission to halt all funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Of course, ignorance as to facts starts closer to home. When scores of writers have condemned the administration for variously "restricting" or "banning" embryonic stem cell research funding, the fact that President Bush liberalized research-funding policy and was the first US president ever to fund such research is hard to keep in focus.

By all means let us have debate, sans hysteria, about science and technology policy. But we need to start with the facts. Science policy will always be about ethics, and woe betide us when we start to forget.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron
Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology

While it is true that Nixon fired scientists who criticized his ABM [antiballistic missile] program, he did so because he opposed their politics, not their science. When G.W. Bush radically alters the conclusions of a report produced by a scientific panel, in order to fit the administration's political agenda, this action utterly denies the utility of scientific truth. Although Bush, Sr., misrepresented the consensus of scientists on acid rain, the architect of this politicization of scientific "truth" was the same Karl Rove who presides over policy in the White House today.

The Bush administration has supported "industry science," but that is not science, it is technology, or more specifically, the application of science to create wealth for corporations. The Bush administration supports corporate profits, and it supports any aspect of science that accomplishes this goal.

The Bush administration is unique in modern history in its overt contempt for "reality-based thinking," not only on questions of science, but also on the economy and foreign policy. The parade of former Bush-administration officials who have left in disgust are unanimous on one point: Every decision is based on political considerations. While it is true that Clinton doubled the NIH budget, the increase has been sorely mismanaged, not by scientists, but by administrators and politicians who squander huge sums on giant "program grants" that produce very little genuine science.

Thomas E. DeCoursey
Rush University


1. A. McCook, "Sizing up Bush on science," The Scientist, 20(10):32-8, October 2006. 2. R. Gallagher, "Science and the President," The Scientist, 20(10):13, October 2006

Bird flu: Preventing paranoia

Jack Woodall's column1 raises a fundamental question of our time and [one that is] far more relevant to science - as a societal endeavor - than just the current bird flu issue. To wit: How do innovators and direct beneficiaries of science and new technologies, especially in food and medicine, accurately convey the benefits and inevitable downsides (however small) of their products/technology/science without becoming victims of the Internet-aided professional activists who have set out to appoint themselves as arbiters of what is acceptable or not?

There are countless examples of useful and beneficial new technologies that are simply too easily mischaracterized and demonized as tools of some corporate or financial interest. This is even said still about milk pasteurization, and is certainly true for agricultural biotechnology. Such groups have blamed bird flu, too, on "industrial farming," even though the flu comes out of areas with high densities of small, mixed farms and old-style wet markets. Can we as a society continue to move forward when the media/activist synergy so continually and consistently opts for alarmism, suspicion, and paranoia, over common sense and sound science? It's too easy to yell fire in a techno-theater these days.

Alex Avery
Hudson Institute

1. J. Woodall, "Bird flu madness," The Scientist, 20(10):63, October 2006.

Bob Jackson, Jr.
Member, Society of Professional Journalists
San Antonio, Texas

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