House Republicans won’t stop science suppression

House Republicans won’t stop science suppression

House Republicans won’t stop science suppression

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 15 2006 8:02 PM

House Republicans won’t stop science suppression

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I am normally not this partisan on my blog, but I am having a hard time seeing this any other way.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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In March, I wrote about (Democratic Representative) Brad Miller looking into science suppression in government-funded agencies. Miller went farther this week, introducing an amendment to a bill that would basically prevent the government from punishing whistle-blowers who want to report any suppression of scientific findings that were made using government funding. The bill was to formally recognize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a government agency, and was being considered by the House Science Committee. Several amendments were proposed, including Miller's.

I have read this amendment, and it's pretty clear: if someone in the NOAA feels that science is somehow being suppressed, the government can in no way make any moves to stop this person from pursuing recourse. This seems like a good idea to me, especially since the government has been suppressing scientific findings for some time now, and more allegations of it surface on a weekly basis. In fact, there have been issues with the NOAA specifically about the government suppressing global warming findings.

So in an agency devoted to discussing the science of the ocean and the atmosphere, it strikes me as a good thing to add to a bill an amendment to stop suppression of that science. Wouldn't you think so, too?

The Republicans on the House Science Committee disagree. The amendment was rejected, 17-13. Every no vote was from a Republican. Every yes vote was from a Democrat.

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Why would Republicans vote down a measure to make sure that science was carried out in a free and open manner?

Rep. Boehlert, the chairman of the committee, gave an opinion on why he thought the amendment should be rejected. He gave two main reasons: one is that any whistle-blower should not rely on legislation for their freedom to act, it should be taken care of internally, inside the NOAA; and the second was that "No one at NOAA has been accused of ‘tampering’ with scientific research or ‘censoring’ findings – a vague term, in any event – or disseminating information known to be false. Yet those are the formal offenses created by this amendment."

I have found many reasons to like Boehlert's stand on science in the past, but I find this statement baffling. For one, while it is true that communication needs to be fixed in all the government agencies so that people can feel free to talk openly, I don't think that's going to happen on its own. If Deutsch hadn't been outed by an article in the New York Times (and several others in the blogosphere, I'll add), how long would it have taken him to be ousted by NASA? Mind you, he quit, he wasn't fired.

Second, how can it hurt to have laws in place to make sure people aren't coerced? After all, it would be nice if no one murdered anyone else, but that ain't the real world. We have laws for a reason. A pre-emptive one, especially in an atmosphere where so many scientists are afraid to speak up, would do wonders for those of us in the reality-based world.

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And scientists are afraid. I have heard many, many stories about people who are "walking on egg shells" (note: those were Boehlert's own words) at their own place of work because there is an atmosphere that dissension will get you in trouble.

Also, Boehlert's statement about no accusations being made at the NOAA has a very ironic twist: it came on the same day Senator Lieberman (D-CT) called for an investigation into political science suppression at four agencies, including -- wait for it -- the NOAA. Lieberman, no liberal he, seems to think there is a problem. Doesn't Boehlert?

I sure do. Science cannot, must not work in those conditions. This government seems hell-bent on twisting and suppressing science that disagrees with its position, whether it's global warming, creationism, or any other ideologically-based stance.

This must stop. And it must stop now. This suppression has a real impact, a serious impact. I've said it before: this is creeping Lysenkoism, pure and simple. This particular vote on this particular amendment may not cause grief in and of itself, but it is yet another brick in a very extensive wall being built, it seems, by Republicans in government who would rather deny reality, close their eyes, and click their heels together three times.

Science doesn't work that way. And if this keeps up, science won't work at all.

Hat tip to Sex, Drugs, and DNA for the news about this. You can also read more on Daily Kos. The image at the top is the cover of Chris Mooney's book. Read his blog here.'