En route to Denver, where he plans to raise more money for his campaign coffers, President Bush made a stop in Summerhaven, Arizona. The mountain community Northeast of Tuscon was recently scorched by wildfires, Reuters reports. Ne’er was there a fairer time for the Texas boy-king to push his ‘healthy forests initiative’ — a plan that proposes an obvious (albeit somewhat comical) solution to preventing forest fires: cut down the trees. Forest experts agree that strategic thinning of forests does reduce wildfire risk. But critics of the healthy forest plan charge that the President is manipulating science to benefit the timber industry and “gut bedrock environmental laws,” as Gary Kozel of the Wilderness Society put it.
Kozel’s complaint is just one voice in a growing chorus of critics bemoaning the questionable use of science by the White House. While many of the scrutinized policies are environmental, Bush’s zest for bastardizing scientific findings has allegedly bubbled over into other political issues, overflowing into the manipulation of research funding, influencing committees on issues from missile defense to reproductive health, from substance abuse to prescription drugs. The allegations are all documented in a recent report by the House Government Reform Committee’s special investigations division lead by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), reports Rick Weiss of the Washington Post.
Waxman’s committee, now under fire by the administration as pushing a partisan agenda, hypothesizes that the misuse and manipulation of science is part of a deliberate ploy to keep Bush’s industrial and religious cronies safe from governmental regulation. The introduction to the Reform Committee’s 40 page report describes the trangressions and their common link: “The Administration’s political interference with science has led to misleading statements by the President, inaccurate responses to Congress, altered web sites, suppressed agency reports, erroneous international communications, and the gagging of scientists. The subjects involved span a broad range, but they share a common attribute: the beneficiaries of the scientific distortions are important supporters of the President, including social conservatives and powerful industry groups.” A weighty charge, indeed, but the Committee does document examples. For instance, as Maggie Fox of Reuters reports, the government posted a page on the National Cancer Institute’s website that incorrectly linked breast cancer to abortion. And Bush’s abstinence agenda has even called condom use into question by making hay of the fact that condom use does not prevent all sexually transmitted diseases. One extremely common (but often asymptomatic and harmless) virus, called HPV, has been linked to cervical cancer. HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, hence, condoms help prevent it but aren’t foolproof. To the abstinence camp, this is an argument not only against sex, but also against condoms. This logic prompted the non-profit Alan Guttmacher Institute to issue its own report. The Guttmacher charges the administration with “distorting data on condoms and cervical cancer to try to discourage condom use and promote instead its abstinence-only agenda.”
Bush’s new global AIDS law requires research into condom use in sub-Saharan Africa to “reduce deaths from cervical cancer,” according to the Cancer Institute. Experts contend that discouraging condom use in the region will only exacerbate the AIDS epidemic, as well as help spread other sexually-transmitted diseases.
Most jarring, however, are the report’s description of Bush’s appointments to (and removals from) committees meant to provide unbiased scientific oversight. According to Weiss, the president’s view on condom use isn’t the only troubling aspect of his AIDS policy:
Bush has appointed to key scientific advisory committees numerous people with political, rather than scientific, credentials. For example, his appointee to a presidential AIDS advisory committee, marketing consultant Jerry Thacker, has described homosexuality as a ‘deathstyle’ and referred to AIDS as the ‘gay plague.'”
And just as the federal Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning and Prevention was discussing the possible lowering of lead exposure limits, Bush dismissed three panelists, replacing them with individuals with ties to the lead industry. Lead causes neurological damage and can diminish attention span and intellectual development in children, reports Matt Leingang of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
One of the dropped panelists, pediatrician and professor Dr. Michael Weitzman, still stands to influence the committee:
“…[T]he CDC recently tapped [Weitzman] to issue a report in October that pulls together all the known research on blood-lead safety levels. The report will be presented to the very advisory committee from which he was dropped.”
But in his place, the administration appointed Dr. William Banner, an expert witness for lead paint producer Sherwin-Williams paint company. Banner, according to the Waxman report, testified in 2002 that children’s brains could be exposed to seven times the current limits (the limit in question when Weitzman was released). While Weitzman, a professor and pediatrician, is an expert whose work deals directly with children. Banner works only with experimental rats, and, of course, with Sherwin-Williams. Fancy that.