Bush officials rebut claims that they distorted science

Detailed report answers accusations by scientists

April 03, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The White House issued a detailed rebuttal yesterday to accusations by an advocacy group and 60 prominent scientists that the Bush administration had distorted or suppressed scientific information to suit its politics.

In a letter to Congress, which had requested a White House response, Dr. John H. Marburger III, science adviser to President Bush, said most of the accusations were false and in some cases "preposterous."

In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has long criticized administration policies on issues such as biotechnology, global warming and nuclear power, released a 38-page report, which found: "There is significant evidence that the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented." The report was endorsed by 60 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and people who had served in past Republican administrations.

Yesterday, Marburger flatly rejected almost every point. "The accusations in the document are inaccurate, and certainly do not justify the sweeping conclusions of either the document or the accompanying statement," he wrote.

In a few places, he said the administration had erred, but added that the mistakes had nothing to do with a lack of scientific integrity.

For instance, he agreed that the Environmental Protection Agency had included text from a document prepared by lawyers for the utilities industry in the preamble of a proposed rule restricting power-plant pollution. But that text, he said, had no bearing "on the integrity of the science used by EPA."

Yesterday, scientists and experts not directly involved in the debate said the matter was not settled.

"The scientific community delivered a hard message, and he has responded on behalf of the administration and on behalf of his own views in a thorough way," said Dr. Donald Kennedy, the editor in chief of the journal Science and commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Jimmy Carter.

The original report can be read on the Web at www.ucs usa.org and the administration's response at www.ostp.gov.

One prominent accusation in the group's report was that the administration, in dealing with a wide array of scientific advisory panels, had often dismissed experts, or selected others, because of their views on contentious subjects.

Marburger said that the White House was determined to maintain balance on such committees and that asking for experts' views on issues was a way to achieve diversity.

But he said, "The accusation of a litmus test that must be met before someone can serve on an advisory panel is preposterous."

He noted that he "is a lifelong Democrat."

The scientists' group had accused the administration of revising scientific reports to make them mesh better with White House policy. A prominent example was a heavily edited section on climate change in a draft EPA report on the environment last year: The White House removed almost any finding pointing to a human link to warming global temperatures. After a battle with the White House, the agency dropped the entire section, leaving a void in what was supposed to be an overview of environmental trends.

Yesterday, Marburger said the section was dropped because more voluminous reports on climate change were in the works.

After a quick review of the White House rebuttal, which was released in the afternoon with no notice, Kurt Gottfried, an emeritus professor of physics at Cornell who is chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the group would take a fresh look at all the issues.

"It's possible there are things we got wrong," Gottfried said. "We're not infallible, like the Vatican or the White House. But I don't think there's any reason to think we got the big picture wrong."

He did not back down from the group's contention that science was more abused by the current administration than by its predecessors.

"I think the average age of those who signed the letter is well over 60," Gottfried said. "We've seen many an administration come and go, and many have served in those administrations. When we say that this pattern is, in extent, unprecedented, we mean that."

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