Welcome to the Bizarro World of political science.
In the United States, the Bush Administration has been credibly accused, and convincingly indicted in the court of public opinion, for cooking the books on global warming. Federal scientists with international stature were muzzled, while industry hacks were invited to revise scientific reports to make them fit the political worldview of the Administration. NASA's mission statement was even revised at one point to eliminate its charge "to understand and protect our home planet," and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had to reverse a number of decisions on endangered species after admitting that a political appointee manipulated science.
In Australia, the Howard Administration, a Bush ally and fellow Kyoto Protocol holdout, was accused of the same types of offenses. After he was swept out of power, though, the new Rudd Administration reportedly followed suit: scientific agencies within the government were told to submit press releases for editing before they were released.
Here's the Bizarro part. In Australia, the political backlash actually prompted the administration to take a stand in support of unfiltered, unbiased science. According to Asia Pulse, Australia's Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr, responded by developing new charters that will guarantee federal scientists "the right to speak out about their research and discoveries, free from political interference."
So, despite all Australia's down-under marsupial strangeness, it is the U.S. that is in the bizarre hemisphere.
And Bush isn't the only master of the science of political convenience. In New York, where I was a newspaper reporter for seven years, Department of Environmental Conservation scientists were prevented from speaking out without press office approval and, often, a press officer watching over their shoulder to interject. This was during the administration of Gov. George Pataki. Pataki, incidentally, stands head and shoulders above Bush in the business of being a Republican steward of the environment. Among his accomplishments: He protected nearly 1 million acres of open space and started the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as the first state-level bipartisan partnership to confront global warming with restrictions on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Bush, on the other hand, has refused government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has opened up as much public land as possible to fossil fuel exploration and other development.
Science has been a minor issue in the campaign for U.S. president so far. Democrats have all pledged, to one degree or another, to restore the "integrity" of science at the federal level. Hillary Clinton has probably gone farthest, having given a speech on the issue and outlined several key points related to the freedom and stature she'd offer scientists in her administration. Republicans haven't discussed science on that level, but they display a range of views from science-based (see McCain, climate policy) to not so-science based (see Huckabee, evolution).
"Governments are responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs that best address our future challenges," Carr said in a statement, according to Asia Pulse. "This means choosing between many policy options (and) having access to frank and fearless research is crucial in making the most informed choice."
That's a concept still too bizarre for the White House.
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