Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Politics still trumping science under Obama
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======== POLITICS STILL TRUMPING SCIENCE UNDER OBAMA =========================
July 12, 2010 12:28 pm CDT
Science is never politically neutral, but just as during the Bush
administration, scientists are being pressured by the Obama administration to
alter their findings in ways that will benefit corporate interests. --PG
.... Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier 
Source: LA Times
A culture of politics trumping science, many say, persists despite the
president's promises. The use of potentially toxic dispersants to fight the
gulf oil spill is cited as just one example.
By Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau
9:42 PM PDT, July 10, 2010
Reporting from Washington
When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush
administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues
as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White
House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to "guarantee
scientific integrity throughout the executive branch."
Many government scientists hailed the president's pronouncement. But a year
and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that
the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they
contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their
ability to speak out.
"We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we
were during the Bush administration," said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer
who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers.
White House officials, however, said they remained committed to protecting
science from interference and that proposed guidelines would be forwarded to
Obama in the near future.
But interviews with several scientists — most of whom requested anonymity
because they feared retaliation in their jobs — as well as reviews of
e-mails provided by Ruch and others show a wide range of complaints during
the Obama presidency:
In Florida, water-quality experts reported government interference with
efforts to assess damage to the Everglades stemming from development
In the Pacific Northwest, federal scientists said they were pressured to
minimize the effects they had documented of dams on struggling salmon
In several Western states, biologists reported being pushed to ignore the
effects of overgrazing on federal land.
In Alaska, some oil and gas exploration decisions given preliminary approval
under Bush moved forward under Obama, critics said, despite previously
presented evidence of environmental harm.
The most immediate case of politics allegedly trumping science, some
government and outside environmental experts said, was the decision to fight
the gulf oil spill with huge quantities of potentially toxic chemical
dispersants despite advice to examine the dangers more thoroughly.
And the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based organization, said
it had received complaints from scientists in key agencies about the
difficulty of speaking out publicly.
"Many of the frustrations scientists had with the last administration
continue currently," said Francesca Grifo, the organization's director of
For example, Grifo said, one biologist with a federal agency in Maryland
complained that his study of public health data was purposefully disregarded
by a manager who is not a scientist. The biologist, Grifo said, feared
expressing his concerns inside and outside the agency.
Most of the examples provided by Ruch, Grifo and others come from scientists
who insist on anonymity, making it difficult for agencies to respond
specifically to the complaints. Officials at those agencies maintain that
scientists are allowed and encouraged to speak out if they believe a policy
is at odds with their findings.
The director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John
P. Holdren, said in a statement last month that the president effectively set
policy in his March 2009 memorandum calling for administration-wide
scientific integrity standards.
"There should not be any doubt that these principles have been in effect —
that is, binding on all executive departments and agencies," Holdren said,
adding that "augmentation of these principles" will be coming soon.
Still, Grifo said, the volume of the complaints indicates a real problem and
makes it "vital" that the Obama administration issue additional instructions.
While overall respect for science may have improved under Obama, several
scientists said in interviews that they were still subject to interference.
Ruch, referring to reports from government scientists in Alaska, said that
under Bush, the agency that issues oil and gas drilling leases "routinely
prevented scientists from raising ecological concerns about the effects of
oil spills, introduction of invasive species, and any other issue that might
trigger the need for fuller environmental review."
In keeping the Bush Interior Department managers and policies in place, Ruch
said, Obama appointees have "turned a blind eye toward federal court rulings
that said Bush-era lease reviews were environmentally deficient, as well as a
GAO report documenting how agency scientists were routinely stifled and
Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman at the Interior Department, disagreed with
Ruch's assertion, saying that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "has made it
very clear that decisions will be made based on a cautious, science-based
Ruch's organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, also
said it had been contacted by an EPA toxicologist who said a request for
review of the toxicity of oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico was rebuffed.
EPA analyst Hugh B. Kaufman, a 39-year veteran, said he had heard similar
complaints from colleagues. Kaufman believes that his agency "gave the green
light to using dispersants without doing the necessary studies."
A past EPA administrator, William Reilly, said in an interview with CBS last
month that he had refused to allow the toxic chemicals' use after the 1989
Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska because of the potential effect
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who has proposed legislation to
prohibit dispersant use until further scientific studies are completed, said
the EPA "has been entirely irresponsible" in its review of dispersants.
In May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged that dispersants could be
problematic, but that "they are used to move us toward the lesser of two
difficult environmental outcomes."
EPA Press Secretary Adora Andy said, "The data we have seen to date indicate
that dispersant is less toxic than oil."
"If the science indicates dispersants are causing more damage than they're
preventing, [Jackson] will be the first to sound the alarm," Andy said.
White House officials say the administration's commitment to science has not
"It is important to appreciate that this administration has made scientific
integrity a priority from Day One — in the people we've appointed, the
policies we've adopted, the budgets we've proposed, and the processes we
follow," says Rick Weiss, an analyst and spokesman for the Office of Science
and Technology Policy.
White House science advisor Holdren told the House Science and Technology
Committee in February that his office had been delayed in releasing its
guidelines on scientific integrity due to "the difficulties of constructing a
set of guidelines that would be applicable across all the agencies and
accepted by all concerned."
Scientists and environmental groups have lauded Obama for appointing highly
regarded scientists to top posts within the administration. But so far,
critics said, those appointments have not eliminated the problems faced by
lower-level government scientists.
For example, Ruch said, he has been contacted by two federal scientists who
charged that their efforts to implement stricter water-quality rules had been
In the Pacific Northwest, Ruch said, his organization has heard in the last
16 months from multiple federal fisheries biologists who report that they are
under pressure to downplay the impact of dams on wild salmon.
And in Western states, federal biologists report that they are under pressure
not to disclose the full impact of cattle grazing on federal lands, according
to Ruch's group and others.
Katie Fite of the Western Watersheds Project, an organization that monitors
grazing, backs those allegations. Fite said that scientists had complained to
her that "all of the incentives are geared to support grazing and energy
development," which could adversely affect plants and other animals.
"Basically, science is still being scuttled," Fite said. "We are
Most critics said they were disappointed that protection of science and
scientists did not become more of a priority after the election.
Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington attorney who has filed suit to block projects
approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service and
other agencies, said he had expected the culture to change under Obama.
"The administration's been in long enough that if that was going to happen,
we should have seen it by now," he said. "We simply haven't."
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