Bush Administration Skewing Scientific Panels Based on Politics, Scientists’ Union Says
The Bush administration continues to "pac[k]" scientific panels with "ideologues" who share the president's views on human embryonic stem cell research and other issues, according to a report released on Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Reuters reports (Fox, Reuters, 7/8). In February, UCS released a statement saying that the Bush administration frequently suppresses or distorts scientific analyses from federal agencies -- including research on condoms and abortion -- when the data disagree with administration policies (California Healthline, 4/5). The report issued on Thursday, titled "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: Further Investigation of the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science," was signed by more than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Prize winners and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences, the Los Angeles Times reports (Shogren, Los Angeles Times, 7/9).
The report says that FDA ignored scientists' recommendations in rejecting over-the-counter status for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, according to the Baltimore Sun (Kohn, Baltimore Sun, 7/9). FDA in May issued a "not approvable" letter to Barr Laboratories -- the manufacturer of Plan B -- citing inadequate data on the use of the pills among girls under age 16. The agency's decision was unusual because it contradicted the recommendations of two FDA advisory panels, which in December 2003 voted 23-4 to recommend that Plan B be sold without a doctor's prescription. In addition, Steven Galson, acting director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said he made the decision to reject the application on his own and did not follow the recommendations of his staff (California Healthline, 6/18).
The report also says that the Bush administration denied positions on scientific panels to some scientists because of their "political beliefs," according to the Los Angeles Times. Dr. Gerald Keusch, former associate director for international research and director of the NIH John E. Fogarty International Center for Advanced Study in the Health Sciences, said that over three years HHS rejected 19 of the 26 candidates for the center's board, including a Nobel Prize winner who was rejected "because his name had appeared in newspaper ads accusing the [Bush] administration of manipulating science," according to the Los Angeles Times. Keusch added that his nominations for the center's board were accepted by the Clinton administration but rejected by the Bush administration, the Los Angeles Times reports. Keusch said HHS rejected the nomination of Jane Menken, a population expert at the University of Colorado-Boulder, because she supports abortion rights, according to the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, 7/9).
Dr. George Weinstock of Baylor College of Medicine, who was nominated to the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research, said that he and another nominee received phone calls from an HHS staffer asking "leading political questions," according to Reuters. Dr. Richard Myers of Stanford University, who was nominated to the same panel as Weinstock, said that he received a call from an HHS staffer asking his opinion on embryonic stem cell research and his opinion of the president, according to Reuters. Weinstock said, "There is no doubt in my mind that these questions represented a political litmus test" (Reuters, 7/8).
Dr. Kurt Gottfried, a professor of physics at Cornell University and chair of UCS, said that the Bush administration's actions could cause some scientists to leave the government, according to the New York Times. "You can destroy that in a matter of years and then it can take another generation or two to get back to where you were in the first place," Gottfried said (Chang, New York Times, 7/9). White House science adviser John Marburger said that the Bush administration "strongly" supports science and has increased funding for research and development by 44% since 2001, according to the Washington Post (Washington Post, 7/9). Marburger said in a statement that the new UCS report "resembles previous releases in making sweeping generalizations based on a patchwork of disjointed facts and accusations that reach conclusions that are wrong and misleading" (Lane, Long Island Newsday, 7/9). Marburger added, "This administration values and supports science, both as a vital necessity for national security and economic strength and as an indispensable source of guidance for national policy" (Ebbert, Boston Globe, 7/9).
- CBS' "Evening News" on Thursday as part of its "What Does it Mean to You?" series about the presidential candidates' stances on major issues, reported on how "few scientific endeavors are as much affected by politics" as embryonic stem cell research. The segment includes comments from Doug Melton, a professor and researcher at Harvard University who has created a line of embryonic stem cells using private funding. Melton's two children have type 1 diabetes, which is one of several diseases that some proponents say could benefit from stem cell research with new treatments or cures (Kaledin, "Evening News," CBS, 7/8). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Thursday said that if he is elected, he will "immediately" sign off on government funding for embryonic stem cell research. Kerry added that he supports embryonic stem cell research with "strong" ethical guidelines (King, "Larry King Live," CNN, 7/8). The complete transcript of the interview is available online. A video excerpt of the interview is available online in RealPlayer.