A War on Science?

Remember the Republican "war on science"? The Bush Administration was repeatedly accused of manipulating and suppressing scientific conclusions for scientific gain. While I thought this was politics as usual, others believed this was a concerted attack on scientific inquiry -- a "war on science." (See this chain of posts.) The Obama Administration has expressed concern about science politicization, but it is has been difficult to stop.

Two widely cited examples of this alleged war were revisions made to a government climate report by a former industry lobbyist and a NASA official's ham-handed efforts to prevent noted climate scientist James Hansen, a NASA employee, from commenting publicly on climate change policy. Could the Obama Administration be guilty of equivalent science politicization? Perhaps. Two weeks ago, Roger Pielke Jr. marshaled evidence that a government contractor with substantial industry ties may have been responsible for misrepresenting the relevant peer-reviewed scientific literature in an important government report on climate change. This past week, the EPA was accused of suppressing an agency's employee's comments on the EPA's proposed greenhouse gas "endangerment finding" (the official finding that greenhouse gas emissions may threaten public health and welfare). Here again, Pielke finds the parallel with the Bush Administration's conduct instructive.

And we should not be too quick to let Congress off the hook either. A key component of the last-minute compromise that enabled passage of the Waxman-Markey bill was the transfer of authority to evaluate carbon offsets from the EPA to the Department of Agriculture. Why was this done? Because farm-state Representatives believe the USDA is more likely to reach farmer-friendly conclusions than the EPA. As is so often the case in politics, it's more important to reach the "right" answer than for the answer to be right.