Skip to main content.

Back to: >> Politics

Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration.

Seth Shulman

Extended Book Review and Editorial
Lead Reference for this book: Scientific Integrity in Policymaking

Shades of Lysenko and Himmler, not to mention Pope “What’s His Name” who put Galileo under house arrest and burned the great philosopher, Giordano Bruno at the stake. Times have not changed, but to democracy’s everlasting credit, the methods have. Bush’s many critics in government scientific positions merely face being fired, forced to draw conclusions opposite to what their data says, denied rights to publish, being excluded from their career work, compromised of their integrity, or muzzled, all in the name of politics, religion, or whatever it is that drives extreme behavior in the White House. Like the nameless pope, Mr. Bush’s ultimate legacy in history will include his futile opposition to truth and justice. Meanwhile he has done America a grievous disservice.

For the independent minded, The UCS website has a remarkable summary collected in a "new" periodic table of "events." Scan your mouse over all the New Elements. Perhaps you will be as stunned as we were. [UCS directs all inquiries to their home page: click on "Scientific Integrity", then "Abuses of Science" and finally "a to z guide to political interference in science" to get down to New Elements.]


Chapter One - Facts Matter
Some particulars Shulman details:

National Cancer Institute -- Nov 2003 Fact Sheet

  • NCI statement: There is a link between abortion and breast cancer.
  • Fact: Peer reviewed scientific evidence from a study involving 1.5 million women showed no such link.
  • Outcome: This, the New York Times and other organs pointed out was “an egregrious distortion of the evidence.” It was just that, and the Bush White House backed down and re-posted the correct information. Damage was deep nonetheless. Five years later, we still hear the erroneous fact sheet quoted as truth even from people who should know better.

Brookhaven National Lab

A reject from the Brookhaven Lab was put in as science advisor to Bush, but the position was downgraded from levels in previous administrations.

Environmental Protection Agency

Christine Whitman was accused of disloyalty when she asked for facts

Office of Science and Technology Policy, OSTP

Scientists knowing the most about climate change were excluded from deliberations.

National Security Council

Richard Clarke: was pressured by Bush to declare that Iraq was behind 9/11, not by direct order, but by pointed questions.

Clear skies

The opposite happened with utilities pocketing savings.

Healthy Forests

The opposite happened at urging of Logging industry.

Sound Science

A catchword meant to confuse: uttered by administration officials with industry backgrounds who project “...sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by industry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients.”

Politicized Science

Shulman lists the above and many other dangerous paths that:

  • Impoverishes the policy-making process: by leading to choices that are not informed by the best-available scientific and technical knowledge.
  • Weakens our democracy: by denying citizens the benefit of a full and open debate on critical policy matters.
  • Demoralizes the legions of dedicated career researchers: in the federal government who compile and analyze information, and ultimately,
  • Undermines the tradition of scientific, and technical excellence: upon which the credibility of our government depends.

Nine more chapters follow this hard-hitting one. Each is supported by copious notes. Some glaring disconnects follow.

Ch. Two - Climate Change

Kyoto was hardly a perfect treaty, but it was not fatally flawed as Bush characterized it. It was a step forward, nevertheless. [When it was tried locally by the Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, it was found to be affordable and effective, though he did have detractors.] Bush’s simple philosophy: The Kyoto Protocol leading to gradually reduced emissions would have “...a negative economic impact” and that “most reasonable people will understand that it’s not sound public policy.” Bush went against overwhelming evidence and expert opinions on this matter. In fact, he is acting like a Microbe that blindly multiplies itself out of existence.

Ch. Three - Health and the spin doctors

Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, in 2002 issued a directive mandating all federal agency staff “to speak with one voice.” A high level official warned: “The worst thing [about this plan] is that the people who will be controlling the information flow are going to be the spin doctors instead of medical doctors.” And so it came to be.

Ch. Four - Abstaining from Truth; the FDA

“For the first time in history, the FDA is not acting as an independent agency but rather as a tool of the White House. It is a very sad day when politicians start making medical decisions." JAMES TRUSSELL, Princeton University scientist and FDA advisory Committee Member, May 2004.

Among other anecdotes, Shulman relates how the Bush administration subverted the scientific process at the FDA. Dr David Hager, a Christian Right fundamentalist was his point man at the FDA. His role in preventing Plan B from becoming an over-the-counter drug, is typical of how Bush operatives control what comes out of the many government agencies. Two independent FDA scientific advisory committees met in a joint meeting and approved the contraceptive “Plan B” for over-the-counter sale. The vote was 23-4. The drug is not toxic, has no addiction potential, and also has no potential for abuse. Dr Galson, the FDA director was not thrilled at this development and raised trivial objections with the drug maker, Barr Pharmaceuticals. Trussell took strong issue with Galston’s position.

Enter Dr David Hager, an aggressive Christian Right advocate. He was appointed to FDA’s Reproductive Health Advisory Committee, a fact announced on Christmas Eve to get in under the media radar screen. Hager’s private practice strictly follows fundamentalist doctrines. He has publicly stated Plan B is equivalent to abortion though it works before uterine implantation. That is not a medical-mainstream position. Nevertheless, Hager helped petition the FDA in August 2002 to halt distribution and marketing of Plan B. Barr Pharmaceuticals promptly applied to the FDA with a revised proposal. In 2005, a new FDA director “indefinitely postponed” any decision.

Susan Ward, a high level FDA official promptly resigned over this issue. Dr Frank Davidoff, an advisory committee member quit the agency at the same time. In his resignation letter, he wrote: “I can no longer associate myself with an organization that is capable of making such an important decision so flagrantly on the basis of political influence rather than the scientific and clinical evidence.”

There in brief, you have the first third of this little book. It is well researched and written with astonishing insights into the methods would-be dictators can use to deflect the public from their true agenda. They delay implementation, and in some cases completely nullify, acts of Congress. The Clean Air Act is one high-profile example.

America is a nation of laws. America is also a nation of trusting people, perhaps too trusting for we too often take things at face value. That is OK under most circumstances, however these are not ordinary times. For example, Clear Skies, No Child Left Behind, Healthy Forests, Compassionate Conservatism, and other catchy phrases, are meant to be taken as clarion calls to action--but are really designed to garner votes. In each case however, they are designed to accomplish the opposite of what their titles promise. This sleight-of-hand benefits special interests with political, religious, or economic connections with the White House. Shulman documents numerous such interests with references.

Shulman has doubtless taken a lot of heat since publication (2006)--and since with this update (2008). We applaud his courage in standing up to the Religious Right, special industrial interests, and the Bush Administration. Things in this administration are worse than we thought. Being so pervasive and opaque, this administration, together with its lackeys in Congress, was able to do an astonishingly amount of harm to democracy in America. It is up to us to vote out as many of these phonies as possible out in November. No matter how we as a nation vote in November 2008, it will be an improvement.

For those anticipating purchasing this important little book, we provide below a listing of Chapter sub heads. Their very scope should be enough evidence to convince anyone who can think independently that: Something is seriously wrong when the leaders of the world's foremost nation can routinely use sleight-of-hand, under the table, methods of governance, and get away with it. Do we as a people really prefer the state wherein ignorance is bliss?

Ch 1 - Facts Matter

"Science, like any field of honest 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 should be relying on the impartial perspective of science for guidance.
President George H W Bush, 1990"

Ch 2 - "Icing" the Data on Climate Change

"In my 14 years in government I have never seen a similar situation like the present one involving climate science in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as rto undermine the credibility and integrity of the program in its relationship to the research community, to program managers, to policy makers, and to the public interest.
Rick S. Piltz, Former seior associate at the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, in his letter of resignation, 2005."

Ch 3 - Doctoring the Evidence About Your Health
"I expect the Bush Administration will go down in history as the greatest disaster foe pubic health and the environment in the history of the United States.
Senator James M. Jefferson (Independent, Vermont) 2004"

Ch 4 - Abstaining from the Truth on Abstinence and AIDS

"For the first tme in history, the FDA is not acting as an independent agency but rather as a tool of rhe White House. It is a very sad day when politicians start making medical decisions.
James russell, Princeton University scientist and FDA advisory Committee member. May 2004"

Ch 5 - Clear Skies? Healthy Forests?

"Tinkering with scientific information, either striking it from reports or altering it, is becoming a pattern of behavior. It represents the politicizing of a scientific process, which at once manifests a disdain for professional scientists working for our government and a willingness to be less than candid with the American people.
Roger G. Kennedy, Director of the National Park Service, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2003."

Ch 6 - When Good Science is the Endangered Species

"The members o our panel were told to either strip out our recommendations or see our report end up in a drawer.
Robert Paine, ecologist at the University of Washington, April 2004."

Ch 7 - Burying More Than Intelligence

"The Bush administration has declared war on science....In George Bush's America, ignorance is strength.
Howard Dean, "Bush's War on Science," Daily Camera, July 5 2004"

Ch 8 - Stacking the Deck

"I don't think any administration has penetrated so deeply into the adversary committee structure as this one, and I think it matters. If you start picking people by their ideology instead of scientific credentials, you are inevitably reducing he quality of the adversary group.
Donald Kennedy, Editor of 'Science' and former president of Stanford University, January 2001"

Ch 9 - Stem Cells and Monkey Trials

"When prominent scientists must fear that descriptions of their research will be misrepresented and misused by their government to advance political ends, something is deeply wrong.
Elizabeth Blackburn, microbiologist, University of California, San Francisco, Medical School, April 2004"

Ch 10 - Restoring Scientific Integrity

"We are each entitled to our own opinion, but no one is entitled to his own facts.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S.Senator (D NY), 1977-2001"

To ignore an extreme administration (which, by its very extremism, begs to be countered by an extreme response--a polarizing-problem in itself!) is to shirk our duty as citizens and patriots. For the critics who claim this site is biased because we consistently find fault with the Bush administration, we reply with this:

    While there is skulldugary in every administration, what sets this one apart from all previous ones is its scope: All agencies in which solid science is required for sound policy making have become politicized beyond belief. The science is shelved, distorted, ignored, censored, and misrepresented to an astonishing degree.

    So also for this administration's attention to detail; the Bush Administration leaves nothing to chance; it hides everything it can; it values loyalty to the party line beyond truth and justice.

    Compassionate it is not. Even as imperial warriors, the players failed--all because they seem to believe facts do not matter, whether they be historical, scientific or something softer--like intelligence. If a person exhibited these traits s/he could be labeled psychopathic, even out of touch, with all the consequences such labels entail.

Unless the next president is lying to us now, and intends to follow in Bush's footsteps, he will have his work cut out for him. His government agencies are seriously short of integrity, sound policy making, and efficiency, not to mention self and world respect. This is not a political party problem, it is a socio-political-system problem of the first order.

Loyalty is a good litmus test
--if it is to truth and justice--
first and last of all.

A constitutional amendment is in order, because all three branches of our government have fallen astray in their misplaced loyalties. And next time the practitioners may collectively have the "Bush charisma" and be smart and patient enough to finish off this wounded government style we call democracy. Our constitution provides the means for the needed change. Its writers seem not to envisaged how our individual make-up, can lead to the obvious: Homo sapiens is a political animal. The political adjective arises from our Genetic Heritage, arising in turn from the jungle and savanna. This particular problem can be dealt with on the system level and it is high time we get on with it.

If we are motivated by fear, then the confluence of terrorism and nuclear arms should be obvious enough to begin procedures.

Positive motivation is there as well. Truth and justice expressed by the sciences and implemented by technology as natural laws have brought us all to better lives. Natural laws can become secular laws. The result might be a New Enlightenment.


To sweep Bush under the rug is to practice denial, in a scientific age yet.

This whole issue needs greater public airing. For example, how many of the average voters in America are aware of the issues addressed on this page? The unaware group is surely large enough to swing an election one way or the other. Is it not appropriate to try enlightening them?

Our purpose: Every historic wave, and the current administration qualifies as such, is followed by a back lash that might be worse. Our purpose in reviewing the works of scholars is to help illuminate the public as to the means employed by those who would stifle democracy--destroying our way of life. One of those techniques, as in this review, is to undermine science. Mr Bush; has done that to such an extreme that his techniques should be part of any "Freedom Curricula" taught generations to come.

As for Kyoto, it actually did some good in spite of being torpedoed by this "lame-duck" administration. Salt Lake City is just one home-grown and exceptional example. Two sets of special interests are at work on this issue.

Kyoto set a moral example and the US came out on the wrong side. We have some catching up to do.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Monday, July 21, 2008 at 21:38:50

We agree Congress was as short-sighted as this administration. Nevertheless, Mr Bush had an opportunity to sign and did not, claiming the world was not warming, and that poor third-world countries had to step up to the plate beyond their means. Some actually did.

The problem does not end there. The US public is the chief owner of this problem. China will soon assume that mantle, then where will the world be? Their pollution is now reaching Washington and Alaska.

If you are a pot, it is hard to call a kettle black. Others have the moral high ground on this one. If the two biggest polluters do not help, where will it end?

Posted by RoadToPeace on Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 00:43:24

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.