Sunday, February 05, 2006

It's Worse Than You Think

Over at Pharyngula, PZ Meyers picked up on another story of the Bush administration's attempt to change the nature of science at the policy level. Most may be familiar with recent media coverage on administration efforts to muzzle the viewpoint of prominent climate scientists on the issue of global warming, notably James Hansen of NASA. However, NASA administrators have once again made it policy that science defend personal religious viewpoints:

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In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

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Meyers doesn't think this is the exception and cites a link back to Chris Mooney's site, which describes the interview with Hansen and a history of administrative attempts to drastically modify or outright limit scientific assessments on global warming. I would suggest it's even worse than Meyers thinks. Does everyone remember the fracas over the National Park Service's administration pressure to allow a creationist book on display at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center over the objections of scientists and staff tasked with bringing science education to the public? Now, under the direction of Assistant Secretary of the Interior Paul Hoffman, the Park Service is re-writing its management policy guides. These reflect the larger vision expressed by the Park Service for management of our national parks and will guide the manner in which future policies and decisions are implemented. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees have tracked the pertinent documents. As might be expected from a former Cody, Wyoming Chamber of Commerce staffer with no national park experience, the re-writes are anti-environmental, pro-privatization and corporate use of the parks and would eliminate preservation as the goal of the national park system. Such reasons on their own are certainly sufficient to warrant a protest of the proposed changes. However, under Hoffman's direction, the new guidelines also remove any scientific basis underlying park management, including evolutionary theory. In an August 2005 letter of protest from the CNPSR several issues of concern were raised over the new guidelines, including the following:

Eliminating the scientific underpinning of NPS management. The entire draft has a decidedly anti-intellectual, anti-science tone. The drafters' hostility toward sound science is demonstrated by the elimination of all references to "evolution" or "evolutionary processes." The word "qualified" is eliminated when the drafters refer to park professionals who oversee the management of natural and cultural resources. In several instances, the drafters eliminate "scholarly analysis" as a prerequisite for gathering the information necessary for park managers to make informed, sound decisions. The rewrite also eliminates the current requirement that there should be the use of "technologies" (science) used to protect the parks, such as the current research going on at the Grand Canyon to determine the extent of needed cutbacks on noise pollution from helicopters and other low-altitude overflights.

This is exactly what Chris Mooney is talking about in the Republican War On Science: an administration bent on removing any science that is inconsistent with their policies. And these are not the only instances of administration policy affecting the use of science for management in our parks, national forests and other public lands. In 2002 biologists were attacked by members of Congress for supposedly faking evidence of endangered lynx (it was a blind test to see if the DNA signatures could be picked up - anti-Endangered Species Act congressmen, with the help of the media, twisted the evidence and circumstances to make it appear the biologists had falsified information). Not long after that, another Bush appointee to the Interior Department called science indicating that sage grouse had numbered in the millions before settlers arrived in the 19th century "simply a fairy tale, constructed out of whole cloth". She also questioned whether the grouse was dependent on sagebrush during the winter, saying "they will eat other stuff if it is available" (it is uncontested by biologists that sage grouse are dependent seasonally on sagebrush). Meyers is right: it's worse than we think.

1 comment:

P.M.Bryant said...

Thanks for the link to that post of mine on Interior Department's undermining of sage grouse science from late 2004. I had forgotten about that in the meantime.

Here is the direct link to that post.