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George W. Bushs War Against Science A Personal Perspective

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-21-06 08:02 PM
Original message
As a scientist who has worked for the federal government (Food and Drug Administration) since 1999, I have thought a lot about this issue over the past several years, and I can tell you that I am not alone in saying that the enthusiasm I have for the work I do has declined greatly as a result of the war against science conducted by the Bush administration. An e-mail that I received recently from my union, the National Treasury Employee Union (NTEU the largest independent federal union in the U.S., representing 150,000 federal employees) gives me hope that there may be many more government scientists out there than I realized who are as upset about this as I am.

Of course, the Bush administrations war against science is not limited to the FDA. In addition to Bushs recent squelching of embryonic stem cell research, there are countless other examples: Earlier this year he tried to silence Dr. James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA on the issue of global warming, following Dr. Hansens December 2005 lecture calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in order to reduce global warming. And I know of a woman scientist who recently quit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because of the Bush administrations continued obstruction of public education regarding the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted disease, in favor of its religiously motivated abstinence only approach. In short, whenever scientific truth conflicts with George W. Bushs religious ideology or the potential of his wealthy benefactors to reap profits at the expense of everyone else, science is always the loser. But I digress

NTEU press release warning of the politicization of the FDA

In the e-mail I received from the NTEU, they say that they will soon be putting out a press release commending the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for calling attention to critical gaps in the scientific integrity and lack of resources at the FDA. In the press release, the NTEU notes the results of a survey of approximately 1,000 FDA scientists, co-sponsored by the UCS and by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), in which less than half of the surveyed FDA scientists believe that the FDA is providing the public with complete and accurate information on issues for which it is responsible. Related issues covered in the press release include:

 The politicization of science at the FDA
 Resulting morale problems
 Negative effects on protecting the publics health which is the responsibility of the FDA
 Pressuring of FDA scientists to concur with political opinions mandated from above
 The efforts of the Bush administration to privatize the scientific functions of the FDA

And the press release concludes with the NTEU saying that it intends to fight for a work environment where science takes priority over politics.

Some background on the FDA

In order to better appreciate the meaning of the Bush administrations politicization of the work of the FDA, some brief background is in order:

President Theodore Roosevelt recognized the fact that powerful corporations, including those that manufactured food and drugs, posed a substantial danger to the American public because there were few if any safeguards to ensure the safety of their products. Consequently, he proposed and steered through Congress the Pure Food and Drug Act, which was enacted in 1906 for the purpose of protecting American consumers against dangerous foods and drugs manufactured by U.S. industries, and which was later expanded to address biological products and medical devices.

It is certainly possible, as George Bush has done, for a U.S. President to appoint political hacks to high level positions in purportedly scientific federal agencies such as the FDA. However, it is a much more difficult task for a president to infiltrate the many thousands of lower level science positions with political hacks. One major reason for this is that it has long been recognized that extensive education in the science of Public Health is required of scientists who fill scientific positions in federal public health agencies such as the FDA. Schools of public health throughout the United States educate aspiring scientists in the liberal tradition of using science to develop policies that will improve the health and quality of life of people. Consequently, by the time these people join the work force they have an outlook on their work that makes it extremely difficult for idiots appointed by the likes of George W. Bush and his minions to convince them to subvert their work to the dictates of political ideology or opportunism. And that is a major reason why the FDA has had a long history of effectiveness, which incited Dr. Howard Markel to editorialize in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

The FDA represented everything despised by the modern conservative movement. The FDA was a science-based policymaking agency, but its logic and evidence often failed to resonate with ideology-based policymakers and leaders. The FDA also was quite good at confronting businesses and reigning in their profit-seeking behavior if their interests conflicted with the public interest.

Some personal insights into the politicization of the FDA

I mentioned morale problems earlier in this post. One reason for morale problems is that FDA scientists sometimes work for months in evaluating a product for potential FDA approval, conclude that it is too dangerous to be approved, and then are simply over-ruled by higher level FDA managers, who have little or no understanding of the product and give no reasons for their decision. FDA managers often trip all over themselves to make sure that the representatives of powerful industries are happy with them. They wouldnt think of making a major decision on a product without first inviting representatives of the applicable industry to meet in person with them, and yet the same courtesy is rarely afforded to consumer groups.

I was an FDA manager myself until a couple of years ago. Things were beginning to get somewhat tense, and then my supervisor informed me that from now on my performance evaluation would include the extent to which I enthusiastically described, to the scientists under my supervision, the programs supported by FDA management. I asked if that meant that I would be expected to pretend enthusiasm to my employees regarding programs with which I disagreed. The answer I was given was no (what else could my supervisor say to that), but the provision remained in my performance evaluation contract.

Then the FDA decided to pull a scientific article that I wrote that was about to be published in a widely read medical journal. The article had already been cleared by the FDA, but when the manufacturer of the medical device in question complained about the article to the Bush appointed FDA Commissioner, Lester Crawford, the FDA had second thoughts about it. Needless to say, I was not unhappy when someone leaked the story to the Wall Street Journal, where it appeared on their front page.

Another example of the FDAs subservience to industry is its eagerness to approve silicone breast implants, a product with a rupture rate estimated at 30% to 70% (despite claims by the manufacturer that the rate is 1%), the common occurrence of serious clinical problems, and the frequent need for repeat surgery to address those problems. And then there was the scandal where the FDA ignored the warnings of Dr. David Graham about the lethal effects of the drug Vioxx, until publicity on the matter forced them to stop ignoring the situation.

One concluding remark

The Bush administrations war against science is not unlike its decision to pressure the CIA into furnishing it with intelligence data that would provide political cover for its decision to invade Iraq, rather than intelligence data that could legitimately be used to assess the actual situation in Iraq. Like everything this administration does, it is just one facet of its much wider war against truth of any kind that interferes with its ideology or the profits of its wealthy benefactors.
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bliss_eternal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-21-06 08:07 PM
Response to Original message
1. The profoundly stupid prefer to keep things simple...
it's easier to feel in control that way. Or at least that's my take on why he's so against moving the country forward in this regard.

Otherwise, he may have to actually take the time and make the effort to understand something. His head may very well explode. Can't have that can we? :eyes:

Not to make light of your post--it's a great post! :hi:
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-21-06 09:44 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Thank you - I don't think it's stupidity or laziness -
I think it's to his base. The religious idealogues and his wealthy donors who keep him in power. Otherwise, why such a relentless attack against any idea (such as global warming) that could cut into the profits of those people?
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riderinthestorm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-21-06 09:53 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. I agree with this analysis. It's his base that he's thinking of only. nt
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 07:06 AM
Response to Reply #4
8. His followers are right about one thing
He IS consistent, in that you always know where he stands -- on the wrong side of the truth.
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bliss_eternal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-21-06 10:48 PM
Response to Reply #2
5. Good points...
thanks for sharing them. :)

I tend to look at his history as part of his entire make-up. His record says to me that he is lazy and stupid, and that has a lot to do with the choices he makes in running the country. He failed as a businessman (several times). He screwed up as governor of Texas. He failed in school. He's a former party boy and alcoholic. He'd rather escape than deal with reality.

If something isn't done for him (included thinking) he doesn't want to do it. This sort of history and the fact that he was frequently bailed out by his wealhty father says to me we are dealing with a guy that doesn't want to deal with the complex. When things get too hard for him--he quits. If the presidency wasn't a term, I suspect he would have quit before now.

Look at his history, and his infamous whining about the job of president being "hard work." Well Duh--what the hell did you expect, shrub?! :eyes:

He's also selfish, and chooses not to think about how anything affects anyone but himself. The only reason his base is considered, in my opinion is because he sees them as a reflection of himself-- because he grew up wealthy. If he doesn't see something as affecting he or his base in the grande scheme of things--it isn't relevant and it's bound to be vetoed.

Of course, this is just how I see him in regard to such issues. No right or wrong here, I'm not disagreeing with you, just sharing how I see him. You expressed valid possibilities as well. :hi:
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 02:46 AM
Response to Reply #5
7. You are certainly right that he's lazy and stupid and selfish
And I'm afraid he's quite dangerous as well.

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Viva_La_Revolution Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-21-06 09:50 PM
Response to Original message
3. thank you
For your service to the American people!

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 12:31 AM
Response to Reply #3
6. Well thank you
And congratulations on your new job.

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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 07:52 AM
Response to Original message
9. So the FDA is making decisions based on corporate profits and
not considering the best interests of the populace. If that's the case, why does the US need the FDA? Again, this is another example of why I trust no one in this admin. Pre-*, was this the SOP?
And BTW, thanks for this article and insight, Time for change.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 11:48 AM
Response to Reply #9
15. I would say that it definitely IS the case that way too much consideration
of the desires of industry are taken into account when the FDA makes decisions these days.

That doesn't translate into there being no need for an FDA, because it still has some value. For example, if dealing with the product of a manufacturer who has less power than the ones discussed in my post, or if the results are more clear cut, management would have a harder time fudging the results, and they would be less likely to do so.

For example, the prime example in my own personal experience was having my article on the AneuRx device pulled. Now, it could be argued that my conclusions regarding the danger that the device posed were somewhat off-base, and that's one thing that the manufacturer did in fact argue (though I believe my conclusions were on target).

However, the point is this. My results were submitted to a scientific journal, and they reviewed my findings and found them to be valid, and that's why they agreed to print my article. My point is that the FDA has no business making decisions (especially life and death decisions, which this was) based on the desires or the arguments of the corporations that it is supposed to be regulating. They can disagree with my findings if they want, and they are free to write an editorial to that effect to the same journal - and the journal proably would have printed their editorial had they done so. But to just pull the article, so that medical practitioners didn't even have a chance to read it and decide for themselves - I think that was really out of bounds (and so did the editor of the journal, who wrote an editorial in his own journal, blasting the FDA's decision).

As far as whether this type of thing went on pre-Bush, I would have to say "No, certainly not to this extent". To some extent this kind of thing went on, because federal organizations also respond to the wishes of Congress, who provides their budget. And we all know what this particular Congress is like, even pre-Bush. But it has gotten a lot worse IMO since Bush has been in office -- as have all science based organizations I believe.
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Fly by night Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 08:25 AM
Response to Original message
10. TfC, you're one of the reasons I still have hope.
Despite their best efforts, the Smirking Chimp's minions simply couldn't find enough fraternity brothers and lacquer-haired Barbies to replace all of the intelligent and dedicated workers within our government agencies. I appreciate what you have written and I appreciate even more that you are still "on the job" and "on task" when it comes to investigating what the FDA approves (or doesn't). When the history of this administration is written (after the second round of Nurenberg war trials), it will be folks like yourself who will be in a position to fully delineate just how close this country came to a descent into the Dark(er) Ages.

While I'm proud of my former CDC colleague for resigning, I am also proud of those there who remain.

Keep up the good work, and don't let the bastards get you down. Peace out.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 10:07 AM
Response to Reply #10
13. Well thank you very much for all the kind words Fly
It's great to see you back on DU - hope you can get back on a more permanent basis before too long.

I try not to let it get me down, but it's hard. When you're working in a situation like that it makes the job seem a lot less interesting. Most of the time, I can hardly wait to get off work and back to DU.
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Olney Blue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 08:37 AM
Response to Original message
11. The scientists I know in the FDA have expressed similar concerns.
I suspect that civil servants all across the federal government, in every agency, have major worries about this administration. When
religion informs science, there is never a good outcome.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 12:54 PM
Response to Reply #11
16. A lot of them certainly do - but
there are also a lot who just don't worry about it.

I don't imagine that a typical Bush voter would worry very much about this type of thing - although not too many scientists are Bush voters.

I do know a lot of Democratic colleagues of mine, and whereas most of them are upset about the politicization of their work, they don't really connect it with politics at the national level. Most of them just don't give that sort of thing much thought.
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DoYouEverWonder Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 08:44 AM
Response to Original message
12. Thank you for getting the word out
More people like you need to come forward and let people know what's going on inside our own government.

The rapture ready Bushbots want to return to the Dark Ages. Just imagine how far ahead humaity would be if they hadn't succeeded the first time around?

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 02:09 PM
Response to Reply #12
17. Thank you -- If we had impeachment hearings a lot of things would
come out, and we'd all be better off for it.

And I think that if Bush and Cheney are impeached, the next thing to do would be to go after the 5 scumbuckets on the Supreme Court who allowed this to happen through the most corrupt decision in USSC history. Impeach the 3 that are still sitting there, and impeach the other two retroactively in absentee.
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Tsiyu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 10:30 AM
Response to Original message
14. K & R
The Bush Cabal is bound and determined to send us back to the Dark Ages.

Pretty soon, they'll be claiming the earth is flat and start burning witches.

Science classes in school will be declared heresy and stopped.

We will teach science out of the Bobble. Like how Noah had dinosaurs on the ark and all.....
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 03:37 PM
Response to Reply #14
19. Yes - Bush has contempt for science because he's too stupid to understand

Just like he has contempt for education because he's basically uneducatable. And like he has contempt for clear speech because he's not capable of it.
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eppur_se_muova Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 02:32 PM
Response to Original message
18. Not just a war on science, but a WAR ON TRUTH ... there's a vital meme.
Global War On Terror ... General War On Truth ... one covers for the other.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 04:47 PM
Response to Reply #18
20. Yes - it's just like their war on truth to get us into the Iraq war
Whatever will serve to benefit their powerful benefacters - that's what they put forward as their version of the truth.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-22-06 06:09 PM
Response to Original message
21. Here's another example, taken from the WSJ article
"Janet Woodcock, the agency's acting deputy commissioner, says that it is routine to consult with concerned parties about pending safety notices."

She used the term "concerned parties", but what does that mean? It means the manufacturer. Someone should have asked her whether any consumer groups were offered input into this. The honest answer would have been NO.
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Nothing Without Hope Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-23-06 03:39 PM
Response to Original message
22. An important post, one to bookmark. The Bush FDA has been stuffed
with corrupt, craven political appointees who have pushed corporate and political agendas at the price of public health and knowledge. We shouldn't be surprised - EVERYTHING these greedy, lying monsters touch is that way. Everything, everyone is for sale. There is no lower limit.

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