Scientists denounce manipulation of datas by gov

Discussion in 'Data Sets and Feeds' started by harrytrader, May 29, 2004.

  1. Report from Union of Concerned Scientists

    Scientific Integrity in Policymaking
    Executive Summary (PDF)
    Full Report (PDF)
    The U.S. government runs on vast amounts of information. Researchers at the National Weather Service gather and analyze meteorological data to know when to issue severe-weather advisories. Specialists at the Federal Reserve Board collect and analyze economic data to determine when to raise or lower interest rates. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control examine bacteria and viral samples to guard against a large-scale outbreak of disease. The American public relies on the accuracy of such governmental data and upon the integrity of the researchers who gather and analyze it.

    However, at a time when one might expect the federal government to increasingly rely on impartial researchers for the critical role they play in gathering and analyzing specialized data, there are numerous indications that the opposite is occurring. A growing number of scientists, policy makers, and technical specialists both inside and outside the government allege that the Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy. In addition, these experts contend that irregularities in the appointment of scientific advisors and advisory panels are threatening to upset the legally mandated balance of these bodies.

    The quantity and breadth of these charges warrant further examination, especially given the stature of many of the individuals lodging them. Toward this end, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) undertook an investigation of many of the allegations made in the mainstream media, in scientific journals, and in overview reports issued from within the federal government and by non-governmental organizations. To determine the validity of the allegations, UCS reviewed the public record, obtained internal government documents, and conducted interviews with many of the parties involved (including current and former government officials).

    Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science presents the finding of this investigation and offers solutions to help restore scientific integrity to the federal policymaking process. Download the full report or the executive summary.
  2. maxpi


    When that "Union of Concerned Scientists" talks we all drop everything and pay attention. They are smart guys for sure... and of course everybody in the Bush Admin is dumb.

  3. Indeed maxpi,

    In my experience when "Union(s) of Concerned Scientists" or similar "activist scientist" start to dabble in politics, they don't seem to be doing much science at all. You often wonder in how far they even have any notion at all about the essence of "Scientific Knowledge". Beware of these herds calling themselves "Scientists", these are certainly a bunch of "smart guys" as you point out .

    Be good,

  4. I read the executive summary written above, and was surprised how "unscientific" it was. Maybe the full report contained more details. Sounded more like a group of Bush-bashers just voicing their displeasure.
  6. A critique of the Union of Concerned Scientists by the Center for Consumer Freedom:

    Committed to an “open-minded search for truth,” and armed with “unrivaled scientific expertise,” the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) “doesn’t say anything [it] can’t back up with solid evidence.” At least, that’s what its fund-raising letters say. The reality is quite different.
    UCS embraces an environmental agenda that often stands at odds with the “rigorous scientific analysis” it claims to employ. A radical green wolf in sheep’s clothing, UCS tries to distinguish itself from the Greenpeaces of the world by convincing the media that its recommendations reflect a consensus among the scientific community. And that’s what makes it so dangerous. Whether it’s energy policy or agricultural issues, UCS’s “experts” are routinely given a free pass from newspaper reporters and television producers when they claim that mainstream science endorses their radical agenda.

    Here’s how it works: UCS conducts an opinion poll of scientists or organizes a petition that scientists sign. Then it manipulates or misconstrues the results in order to pronounce that science has spoken. In 1986 UCS asked 549 of the American Physical Society’s 37,000 members if Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was “a step in the wrong direction for America’s national security policy.” Despite the biased wording of the push-poll question, only 54 percent disapproved of SDI. Even so, UCS declared that the poll proved “profound and pervasive skepticism toward SDI in the scientific community.”

    More recently, UCS pulled a partisan, election-year stunt in 2004 aimed at the Bush Administration. The group rounded up 60 scientists to sign a statement complaining that “the administration is distorting and censoring scientific findings that contradict its policies; manipulating the underlying science to align results with predetermined political decisions.”

    On issue after issue, UCS insists, the White House fails to embrace global scientific “consensus” -- and that automatically means it has “politicized” science. But UCS itself is frequently guilty of that exact sin. For instance, it works overtime to scare Americans about a whole host of imagined environmental problems associated with genetically modified food. But every authoritative regulatory agency, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization, declares that biotech food crops are perfectly safe.

    UCS routinely abuses and politicizes science. Its crusade against farm animals receiving antibiotics presents guesswork as scientifically rigorous analysis, and is calculated to scare the public about risks it admits are groundless. UCS helped initiate the vicious attacks on Danish scientist (and “Skeptical Environmentalist”) Bjorn Lomborg, only to be repudiated by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology, and Industry. And in 2003, the group dressed up its “strong opposition to the US invasion of Iraq” as an exercise in science.

    Like many environmental activist groups, UCS uses the twin motivators of cheer and fear. A giggly Gwenyth Paltrow and a catty Cameron Diaz headlined a series of short appeals about energy conservation that UCS produced. The two mega-stars crow that they turn the water off while brushing their teeth, switch off the light when they leave their bedrooms, and keep the thermostat at 65 degrees. “Its time for us to band together and really make every effort to conserve our natural resources,” chirps Diaz. That’s the sunny side.

    But UCS is more adept at producing horror stories than chick flicks. They are fear-mongers of the first order -- turning the sober science of health and environmental safety into high drama for public consumption. For example, UCS recently warned that by 2100 the U.S. might suffer 50-80 million more cases of malaria every year if the Senate fails to ratify the Kyoto treaty. Such racy statistics are based on clumsy modeling of worst-case scenarios, and assume -- against all evidence of human behavior -- that no countermeasures whatsoever would be employed. “Not considering factors such as local control measures or health services,” in their own words. Of course, you won’t find those caveats in the press release.

    Genetically Modified Science

    Among UCS’s many concerns, “the food you eat” is at the top of the list. More than a million dollars went to its food program in 2001. Genetically enhanced foods -- dubbed “Frankenfoods” by opponents -- have caused worldwide hysteria even though no reputable scientific institution can find anything to be afraid of. But that doesn’t stop UCS’s “experts” from playing cheerleader to these unfounded fears.

    They warn that biotech foods could result in the “squandering of valuable pest susceptibility genes,” “enhancement of the environment for toxic fungi,” and the “creation of new or worse viruses.” They scream about “Poisoned wildlife” and “new allergens in the food supply.” Biotech foods, they claim, might “increase the levels of toxic substances within plants,” “reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease,” “contaminate foods with high levels of toxic metals,” “intensify weedy properties” and cause the “rapid evolution of resistance to herbicides in weeds,” leading to “superweeds.”

    Rigorous scientific analysis led UCS to this list of horrors, right? Wrong. That was merely a “‘brainstorming’ of potential harms.” So how likely are any of these to occur? “Risk assessments can be complicated,” UCS says, and pretty much leaves it at that. In other words, they have absolutely no idea.

    In contrast, more reputable authorities have a very good grasp of the potential risks of genetically enhanced foods. The U.S. Environmental protection Agency says that genetically enhanced corn “does not pose risks to human health or to the environment.” The World Health Organization says that biotech foods “are not likely to present risks for human health” and observes that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population.” Even the European Union, which has gone out of its way to stifle food technology for political reasons, notes: “The use of more precise technology [in genetically enhanced crops] and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods.”

    The Food and Environment Program at UCS is headed up by Margaret Mellon and her deputy Jane Rissler, both of whom hold Ph.Ds and have held positions at prestigious universities. So what do a couple of highly trained research scientists, armed with nothing but guesswork, ideology and a million dollar budget, do? They fight biotech food every step of the way.

    Although UCS claims that it “does not support or oppose genetic engineering per se,” Mellon and Rissler in fact have never met a GM food they didn’t mistrust. That’s because they hold biotech foods to an impossibly high standard.

    In 1999, UCS joined the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Defenders of Wildlife, in petitioning the EPA for strict regulation of corn modified to produce large amounts of the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin. Bt is a naturally occurring insect poison that protects plants from pests like the European corn borer. UCS’s letter was part of a major scare campaign to convince the public that Bt corn posed a risk to the Monarch Butterfly.

    Both the USDA and the EPA later concluded that Bt corn caused no harm to the Monarch. This reinforced the findings of federal regulators who had performed a comprehensive safety review of Bt corn before it was allowed into the marketplace. UCS remains unconvinced, even though the safest place for a Monarch larva to be is in a Bt cornfield. Rissler argued there was “insufficient data” to make such a conclusion.
  7. Continued:

    Precautionary Nonsense

    Of course, “sufficient” data can never exist for zealots like Rissler. She continued: “Do we assume the technology is safe… or do we prove it? The scientist in me wants to prove it’s safe.” It’s impossible to prove a negative, to absolutely demonstrate that there are no dangers whatsoever for any given product. The scientist in her knows that too, but she and her colleagues at UCS continue to be guided by the “Precautionary Principle.” This misguided maxim argues that, based on the fear that something harmful may possibly arise, we should opt for technological paralysis.

    The Wall Street Journal editorialized in 2000 that The Precautionary Principle “is an environmentalist neologism, invoked to trump scientific evidence and move directly to banning things they don’t like.” It’s a big hit among anti-technology activists because it justifies their paranoia and serves to bludgeon technological progress.

    Martin Teitel, who runs another misnamed activist group called the Council for Responsible Genetics, admitted as much in 2001. “Politically,” Teitel said, “it’s difficult for me to go around saying that I want to shut this science down, so it’s safer for me to say something like, ‘It needs to be done safely before releasing it.’” Requiring scientists to satisfy the Principle by proving a negative, Teitel added, means that “they don’t get to do it period.”

    It should come as no surprise that UCS joined Teitel’s organization and other die-hard opponents of biotech foods in an activist coalition called the Genetic Engineering Action Network. While acknowledging that “we know of no generic harms associated with genetically engineered organisms,” UCS consistently opposes their introduction to the market on the basis of purely hypothetical risk.

    Confronted with the real-world benefits of biotech foods, UCS simply changes the subject to its anti-corporate, socialist leanings. Rissler’s appearance on the PBS show Nova – on a program called “Harvest of Fear” -- is a case in point. When the interviewer suggested that “genetically modified crops are arguably much less harmful to the environment” Rissler responded: “It depends on where you want to compromise. There’s another issue here with corporate control of the food supply.”

    UCS’s knee-jerk reaction to biotech foods is matched only by its animus towards agribusiness. A 1994 press release condemning FDA approval of biotech foods complained that some of the data used by the oversight agency was provided by private enterprises.

    In her zeal to decry increased food production from the corporate adoption of biotechnology, Mellon has argued that it’s “not clear that more milk or pork is good.” And UCS supports a radical vision of “sustainable agriculture.” That means no pesticides or herbicides; no fertilizer (other than E.coli-rich manure); and eating only “locally grown” produce. If it’s not clear under this plan where New York City would get its rice or how Chicago would scrounge up any bananas, there’s a reason for it. They wouldn’t.

    Pigs, Chickens and Cows, Oh My!

    Hogging It, a UCS report published in 2001, argues that the use of antibiotics in farm animals could result in human diseases that are resistant to conventional treatments. The report received a great deal of press attention, and UCS is not afraid to brag about it. “We developed the numbers that everyone uses when talking about… overuse of antibiotics,” trumpets a fund-raising letter. But how did they go about developing those numbers? “Rigorous scientific analysis”? Hardly. While the livestock industry actually calculates the amounts of antibiotics administered to farm animals using hard sales figures, UCS guesses at average drug dosages and then multiplies by the total number of animals. That’s “brainstorming.” Not science.

    The real experts, like David Bell, coordinator of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s anti-microbial resistance programs, aren’t impressed by Hogging It. Interestingly, UCS admits the weakness of its evidence. The executive summary of Hogging It complains about a “gaping chasm” in the data. Nevertheless, the authors are proud to produce the “first transparent estimate” of livestock antibiotic use in America.

    Estimate? That’s right. “The numbers everyone uses” are just estimates. Moreover, UCS measures antibiotic usage in total tonnage. But is that relevant in any way? UCS concedes that it’s not. The activist group wants the FDA to track antibiotic usage by “type,” since most antibiotics used in animals are unlike those used in humans.

    Consumer Reports quotes Margaret Mellon saying, “We know nothing. We are flying blind.” No wonder the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Coalition for Animal Health also reject Hogging It’s findings. But none of that stops UCS from scaring the wits out of the public. Mellon warns of an “era where untreatable infectious diseases are regrettably commonplace.” That might be worth getting “Concerned” about, if only it were based on good science.

    Unfortunately, political science masquerading as real science can have real-world consequences. In July 2003, identical bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate threatened to ban the routine use of eight entire classes of antibiotics in livestock. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), a slick PR coalition of activist groups, was especially pleased with the news because its favorite statistic became the legislation’s main factual “finding.” Namely: “An estimated 70 percent of the antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed to farm animals.”

    Guess who “estimated 70 percent” for KAW? The Union of Concerned Scientists, a long-time coalition member. UCS admits that this estimate was created from mere guesswork, saying on its own website that “data to answer [the following] questions are not available”:

    What is the total amount of antibiotics used each year in the United States?

    How much of this is used to treat human disease?

    How much is used in animal agriculture?

    How much is used to treat sick animals and how much to promote their growth?

    How much of each major class of antibiotics is used as supplements to animal feed or water?

    Is agricultural use increasing? By how much?

    Which agricultural uses are most likely to contribute to problems in treating human disease?

    For a group facing so many unanswered questions, answers seem to come remarkably easily. While freely admitting that no good science exists to determine the effect (if any) of livestock antibiotics on human health, UCS managed to convince members of Congress otherwise. At the same time, UCS activists protested outside fast-food restaurants, holding giant “pillburgers” (prop hamburgers stuffed with oversized drug capsules) and chanting “Hey hey -- ho ho -- Drugs in meat have got to go.”
  8. From

    The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (formerly called the "Guest Choice Network") is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture — the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.' "

    CCF is one of the more active of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman. Based in Washington, DC, Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains.
  9. Haha in the name of "Consumer Freedom" as said Milton Friedman this is just "distorsion" by "interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers" !

    "One voice that is hardly ever raised is the consumer's. That voice is drowned out in the cacophony of the "interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers" and their employees. The result is a serious distortion of the issue."

  10. 20 Nobel laureates are sure smart guys ...
    (source: New York Times)

    Scientists Say Administration Distorts Facts More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement asserting that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad. The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a 38-page report accusing the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases. "Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systemically nor on so wide a front," the statement from the scientists said, adding that they believed the administration had "misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies." The letter was signed by luminaries from an array of disciplines. Among the Nobel winners are David Baltimore and Harold Varmus, both biomedical researchers, and Leon M. Lederman, Norman F. Ramsey and Steven Weinberg, who are physicists. According to the report, the Bush administration has misrepresented scientific consensus on global warming, censored at least one report on climate change, manipulated scientific findings on the emissions of mercury from power plants and suppressed information on condom use. The report asserts that the administration also allowed industries with conflicts of interest to influence technical advisory committees, disbanded for political reasons one panel on arms control and subjected other prospective members of scientific panels to political litmus tests. Dr. Sidney Drell, an emeritus professor of physics at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who was not a signatory to the statement, said, "I am concerned that the scientific advice coming into this administration seems to me very narrow." Dr. Drell has advised the government on issues of national security for some 40 years and has served in Democratic and Republican administrations, including those of Presidents Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson. "The input from individuals whose views are not in the main line of their policy don't seem to be sought or welcomed," he said.
    #10     May 30, 2004