Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
  An Unprecendented Assault?

By Dale Keiger

Some scientists, public health advocates, and Democratic members of Congress contend that the current collision of politics and science is unprecedented. Says Pat White, director of federal relations of the Association of American Universities, "I think this is a much more ideologically driven administration than Bush One, and I was in Bush One — I worked for the president's science adviser. More than the Reagan administration. This group has a cohesion and a discipline that tops anything in my memory, certainly in my professional career."

Among the examples cited:

Revision of public health information on government Web sites to de-emphasize condoms in prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and to promote abstinence, despite scientific data that demonstrates the effectiveness of condom distribution — and the ineffectiveness of abstinence programs.

The stacking of NIH science advisory boards with individuals who are under-qualified as scientists but will promote the Bush administration's political agenda. In May 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a report that said, "The administration has picked candidates with questionable credentials for advisory positions, used political litmus tests to vet candidates for even the least political of its government review panels, and favored the candidates put forward by industry lobbyists over those recommended by its own federal agencies." As an example, the Waxman report noted that the Department of Health and Human Services dropped three national experts on lead poisoning from the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and replaced them with individuals tied to the lead industry. In another case, HHS has nominated W. David Hager as chairman of the Food and Drug Administration's Reproductive Health Drug Advisory Committee; Hager, described by Time magazine as "scantily credentialed," is an OB/GYN who refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women, and in one of his books counsels women to seek relief from premenstrual syndrome by praying and reading the Bible.

Suppression and distortion of research data for political purposes, on, for example, global climate change and U.S. air and water quality. UCS cites new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. The regulations were found to contain "no fewer than 12 paragraphs lifted, sometimes verbatim, from a legal document prepared by [power] industry lawyers."

Political interference in selection of experts to advise the World Health Organization. For years, WHO has invited U.S. government scientists to serve on its international scientific review panels. Last April, the administration ordered that for the first time in WHO's history, its requests now had to be routed through the Department of Health and Human Services, where a political appointee would select the experts who WHO could use. William Steiger, special assistant to HHS secretary Tommy Thompson (and George H.W. Bush's godson), wrote in a letter to WHO that government regulations "require HHS experts to serve as representatives of the U.S. government at all times and advocate U.S. government policies." — DK

Go to Political Science feature.
Return to November 2004 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | 901 S. Bond St. | Suite 540 | Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone 443-287-9900 | Fax 443-287-9898 | E-mail