Wed, Feb

Science Struggles Under W.'s Thumb

Who's got the science chops, George or John? A leading science journal is leaving it up to readers to decide.

Who's got the science chops, George or John? A leading science journal is leaving it up to readers to decide.


For this U.S. presidential race, Nature has done something it has never done before: It posed questions about the science priorities of George W. Bush and to John Kerry and printed the answers verbatim in a special news feature.


The move is especially curious given that Nature is a British publication, not American. But, as Nature's editors point out, America's influence is such that, "when it comes to economic, military, and other decisions, the U.S. administration's actions are as likely to have as much impact on your country as those of your own government."



So why did Nature choose this particular election to grill the candidates? The answer is simple. Many American scientists find the George W. Bush administration stifling, if not downright scary. And its policies have repercussions throughout the world's scientific community.


From stem cells to missile defense to nuclear weapons to climate change, the Bush administration has stuck to its ideological guns. Up until this summer, for example, official White House policy has been to deny the human role in global climate change and to tow the oil industry line of waiting for "more research." Bush also raised the ire of researchers by instituting highly restrictive embryonic stem cell research policies — policies that have even drawn fire from Nancy Reagan.

Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has documented dozens of examples of times the Bush administration seems to have altered or suppressed scientific findings to suit its agenda. Since February, more than 5,000 scientists have signed a UCS statement accusing the administration of misusing science. The list includes 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients, and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences.


So perhaps for the first time, science could play a significant role in a U.S. federal election. Unfortunately, most of the two candidates' answers to questions posed by Nature were fairly vague and not especially insightful. But one answer by President Bush stood out.

Question: Many environmental problems can be attributed to the high levels of consumption in developed nations such as the United States. Can science and technology allow everyone on the planet to reach these levels of consumption? Or do Americans need to change their lifestyles and consume less?


Bush:  "America in a very real sense has changed, not by consuming less, but by consuming and producing smarter. We have proven that economic growth makes possible the environmental progress our country has achieved and will continue to achieve in the future."


This answer truly exposes the deep root of Bush's ideology. First is the blithe acceptance of America's overconsumptive ways. Bush suggests that massive consumption levels are fine because they are "smart." This makes no sense. Producing and consuming smarter means doing more with less

— less natural resources and less waste. That's the "smart" part. But this point seems moot to George W. because he would never question Americans' right to consume. Consumption is now as American as apple pie.


Second is the bizarre statement that Bush's administration has somehow "proven" that economic growth makes environmental progress possible.

Really? How? How is it possible to consume, consume, consume and say you are making progress? In reality, the environment makes the economy possible. Our Earth is finite. All our resources come from the planet and all our wastes go back to the planet. To have a healthy, sustainable society, we must recognize that the environment and the economy are really the same thing. And we must create policies and procedures that respect this fundamental bottom line.


From this one answer alone, it's no wonder that science has not found a place in the Bush administration. Science tells them things they don't want to hear. It questions. It probes. It is logical. In short, it is everything the Bush administration is not.

Related Link:

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org The David Suzuki Foundation.

Source: David Suzuki Foundation