In Bush Administration, Policies Drive Science, Scholars’ Group Claims

By Debra Viadero — March 03, 2004 3 min read

right The report, “Scientific Integrity in Policymaking,” is available from the The Union of Concerned Scientists. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Thousands were clamoring last week to add their names to a statement accusing the Bush administration of deliberately manipulating, suppressing, and ignoring scientific advice that conflicts with White House policy.

Initially signed by 60 prominent scientists, researchers, and Nobel laureates, the statement calls on Congress and the executive branch to put an end to tactics that they contend are undermining science across a wide range of federal agencies and policy areas. The list of policy areas includes some issues, such as sex education and the regulation of lead levels, that affect the nation’s schoolchildren.

But John H. Marburger III, the director of the White House office of science and technology policy, called the accusations “disappointing.”

“They make sweeping generalizations about the administration based on what appears to be a miscellany of criticisms, many of which have been made in the past by partisan political figures and advocacy organizations,” he said in a statement issued by his office.

‘Big Difference’

The scientists’ petition was released Feb. 18 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Mass., that has drawn headlines before for opposing federal policy on global warming and other issues. The group also issued a report the same day that describes the scientists’ accusations in greater detail.

Suzanne Shaw, a spokeswoman for the scientists’ group, said the statement attracted 3,000 supporters in the first three days after its release and temporarily clogged traffic on the organization’s Web site. It was not clear last week, though, how many of the new signatures also belonged to scientists.

Ms. Shaw said the organization began its investigation last summer in response to calls from members and other scientists to take a stand against a pattern of federal intervention they saw as unprecedented.

“In previous administrations, the policymakers asked scientists to provide the best scientific evidence, and then it was up to the policymakers to make their own decisions,” said David M. Michaels, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University in Washington. He was one of the original signers.

“What’s going on now,” Mr. Michaels continued, “is that the science is being misrepresented and repressed so that it is made to look like it supports the policymakers’ decisions, and that’s a big difference.”

During President Clinton’s administration, Mr. Michaels was an assistant secretary for environment, safety, and health in the U.S. Department of Energy. But he noted that five of his co-signors held similarly high-ranking federal positions during Republican administrations. The list also includes 20 Nobel laureates, 19 National Medal of Science winners, and three researchers presented with the Crawford Prize, an award the Swedish Royal Academy gives in subject areas not covered by the Nobel Prize.

In the area of childhood lead poisoning, for example, Mr. Michaels maintained that federal officials had distorted the scientific decisionmaking process by manipulating the makeup of an advisory panel. The changes to the panel came, he said, just as the group was about to lower the federal threshold for determining acceptable lead levels in children’s blood.

Testing Abstinence

The report also contends that the Bush administration interfered in research designed to test the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs of sex education by mandating the kinds of measures researchers could use. Rather than using conventional techniques to gauge program effectiveness, it says, such as tracking the birthrates among girls who participated, federal researchers now must restrict themselves to documenting participants’ attendance and attitudes.

Both as president and as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush expressed his support for abstinence education.

Related Tags:

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Federal Who Is Miguel Cardona? Education Secretary Pick Has Roots in Classroom, Principal's Office
Many who've worked with Joe Biden's pick for education secretary say he's ready for what would be a giant step up.
15 min read
Miguel Cardona, first-time teacher, in his fourth-grade classroom at Israel Putnam School in Meriden, Ct. in August of 1998.
Miguel Cardona, chosen to lead the U.S. Department of Education, photographed in his 4th-grade classroom at Israel Putnam School in Meriden, Conn., in 1998.
Courtesy of the Record-Journal
Federal Obama Education Staff Involved in Race to the Top, Civil Rights Join Biden's White House
Both Catherine Lhamon and Carmel Martin will serve on President-elect Joe Biden's Domestic Policy Council.
4 min read
Federal Opinion What Conservatives Should Be for When It Comes to Education
Education is ultimately about opportunity, community, and empowerment, and nothing should resonate more deeply with the conservative heart.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Opinion What the Assault on the Capitol Means for Educators
Last week's assault on the seat of the American government points to a larger civic challenge that we must address together.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty