Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama Rejects Bush's War on Science.

I have already applauded Obama's decision to overturn Bush's ban on stem cell research; but yesterday, as he formally announced his decision in front of a group of eminent scientists, he took the matter even further and appeared, to me at least, to be finally driving his stake through the heart of Bush's war against science.

The president, speaking to an exuberant crowd gathered in the East Room of the White House, cast the decision as a clear departure from the Bush administration, often accused of using selective scientific findings to support its ideological views on climate change, health-care decisions, and other issues. Obama said that "promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it's also about protecting free and open inquiry."

"It's about letting scientists like those who are here today do their jobs free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient," Obama said to applause.

It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."
And that, for me, is the heart of the matter. We do not decide what is true in advance and then try to prove it, we simply ask what the facts are and then attempt to draw a conclusion.

That is the major difference between the Bush regime and the regime of Barack Obama. Bush appeared, for purely ideological reasons, to have decided that certain things were true. And some of the things which he believed - like creationism or his belief that climate change was a myth - did not appear to be backed by any scientific facts.

Bush took part in an unprecedented politicization of science. And he did so, shamefully, to please his religious base.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) actually issued a report into the extent to which the Bush administration was manipulating and distorting the work of scientists.

"The Administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the scientist's letter warned, "placing people who are professionally unqualified in official posts; disbanding existing advisory committees; censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice."

The UCS's report rigorously documents the equivalent of Bush's little shop of anti-enlightenment policy horrors, demonstrating how Bush has twisted facts and suppressed research to enact retrograde policies on such issues as climate change, mercury emissions and emergency contraception. An example: When the EPA discovered that Bush's Clear Skies Act would be "less effective" than a "bipartisan Senate clean air proposal" in guarding the air we breathe, the Administration simply suppressed the EPA study.

It's simply astonishing to me that, as we begin the 21st century, the US could have had a president who was manipulating science and distorting it's message so that it confirmed with his own narrow set of beliefs. Anywhere else in the western world his actions would have been the subject of derision and shame. But in the US, where the religious right are given an especial voice in determining the political landscape, he was seen as fighting a cause rather than engaging in flat Earth obstructionism.

I am delighted that Obama has announced an end to this idiocy, and am especially pleased that he has done so whilst so clearly pointing out the faults of his predecessor.

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