Researchers renew criticism of Bush administration

Prize-winners say politics overshadows science

July 09, 2004|By David Kohn | David Kohn,SUN STAFF

In the latest round yesterday of an increasingly bitter battle, more than 4,000 scientists accused the Bush administration of continuing to stifle scientific research.

Expressing frustration that the administration was ignoring widespread protest from researchers, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a critical statement signed by a group of researchers that included 48 Nobel Prize winners, 62 National Medal of Science recipients and 127 members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

"The practices we've complained about are still going on," said Cornell University physicist Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the union's board. He said some of the administration's actions reminded him of the Soviet Union's attempts to repress scientists during the Cold War.

Yesterday's statement, following up on a report the union released in February, includes allegations that:

The Food and Drug Administration ignored its scientists in denying over-the-counter access to emergency contraception.

The National Marine Fisheries Service suppressed data on endangered Pacific salmon.

The Department of Health and Human Services rejected nominees to science advisory boards for political reasons.

In a statement yesterday, President Bush's top science adviser disputed the claims.

"The [new] material ... resembles previous releases in making sweeping generalizations based on a patchwork of disjointed facts and accusations that reach conclusions that are wrong and misleading," said John Marburger, director of the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Of the new allegations, some of the most explosive came from Gerald Keusch, who from 1998 to 2003 directed the Fogarty International Center, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

During a telephone news conference, Keusch recounted his efforts to fill the advisory board for the center, which promotes research on international public health.

During the Clinton administration, he said, his nominees were routinely and quickly approved. During the Bush administration, the Department of Health and Human Services rejected 19 of his 26 nominees.

When he asked his HHS superiors about the rejection of one nominee, Nobel laureate researcher Torsten Wiesel, Keusch said he was told that Wiesel had "signed too many full-page letters in The New York Times critical of President Bush."

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