Science Starts To Fight Back

Published on
by
The Boston Globe

Science Starts To Fight Back

by
Derrick Z. Jackson

President Bush's war on science continues to disintegrate into unstable elements.

In a hearing before the Senate, Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health, came out unequivocally for stem cell research. This was big news. When Zerhouni was appointed by Bush in 2002, some scientists were concerned about how much the Johns Hopkins researcher who advocated "unimpeded progress" in stem cell research had compromised himself to get the job.

In a New Yorker article in 2004, Stanford stem cell research pioneer Irv Weissman recounted a meeting with Zerhouni and the NIH's stem cell task force leader, James Battey. In the meeting, Weissman offered a scenario of using cell lines from diabetics to fight diabetes. Weissman was told it could not happen under Bush's current rules. Battey later told The New Yorker, "We're not policymakers. We inform policymakers. And the policy, of course, is not made solely based upon scientific input."

This week, Zerhouni went against his boss and stood up for scientific input. "American science would be better served and the nation would be better served if we let our scientists have access to more cell lines." He compared stem cell research in the 21st century to computers and the information revolution of the 20th century. "It's basically the software of life that we're talking about. . . . I think it is important for us not to fight with one hand tied behind our back."

The White House, the one that has been saying it's waiting for "sound science" for six years, responded like an ostrich. Spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush has always exercised "careful and thoughtful deliberation" on stem cells. Fratto said, "The president has to balance the moral and scientific considerations of this nation."

Even if Americans, by as high as a 68 percent to 27 percent difference in a 2006 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, favor expanding federal funding for stem cell research.

In another hearing before the House, Philip Cooney, the former chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was grilled as to why he made hundreds of edits to climate reports. The edits downplayed the human role in global warming. Cooney was a lobbyist for the oil industry (the "climate team leader" at the American Petroleum Institute) before being hired by Bush and became a lobbyist for Exxon Mobil after resigning, following the first reports of his editing in 2005.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Democrat Henry Waxman of California, released scores of those edits this week. In an Environmental Protection Agency draft report on the environment, Cooney deleted: "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment."

He also deleted a sentence that said, "The National Research Council concluded that 'Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.' " He substituted in its place, "Some activities emit greenhouse gases and other substances that directly or indirectly may affect the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, thereby potentially affecting climate on regional and global scales."

Anyone fall asleep yet? That was Cooney's purpose.

Waxman asked Cooney, "Aren't the edits you were making exactly the types of changes the Petroleum Institute would have made to these reports?"

Cooney ultimately responded, "When I came to the White House, my loyalties -- my sole loyalties -- were to the president and his administration." Of course, that was really easy for him to say since Republican causes have received about 80 percent of the $104 million in political contributions from his pre-Bush and post-Bush industry, the oil lobby, going back to the 2000 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Unlike Zerhouni, Cooney is not a scientist. It was Cooney's political job to keep one hand tied behind America's back. He was just a Bush bully of science. With real researchers putting up both their dukes, the bullies seem much more like 100-pound weaklings.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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