Bush and Science: Not Like Ike

In Wednesday's column, Boston Globe opinion writer Derrick Z. Jackson draws an interesting contrast between two presidents' handling of the nation's body of science in the face of adversity.

Publicly, President Eisenhower downplayed the significance of Sputnik. A "useless hunk of iron." Privately, he rallied his cabinet under its guidance created NASA and expanded the NSF.

On the eve of the latest IPCC report and in the face of increasingly dramatic evidence of climate change, President George W. Bush has, well, done the opposite. From the column "Bush spaces out during Sputnik moment":

The attitude toward science in the current White House has palled into the most appalling state since Eisenhower. Scientists feel so isolated that it barely registered that Bush said he would "confront the serious challenge of global climate change" in his State of the Union address.

One reason is obvious. Bush responded to climate change with chump change for climate science. Eisenhower responded to a Soviet satellite with NASA. Under Bush, NASA satellites are fading into useless hunks of iron.

The symbolism of NASA's climate satellites paints a sharp contrast between two presidents. Ike knew when to lead and when to listen to expert opinion. Bush, meanwhile, is the Decider, tying up NASA's resources in a low-priority, highly expensive manned mission to Mars. Where the earlier president put out fires, the later chooses inopportune times to clean out his junk drawer.

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When I first heard of GWBs push for a manned Mars mission I was struck by its brilliance: focus scarce NASA resources on the most expensive project in the history of mankind and eliminate cost effective scientific research that challenge the notion of a universe older than 6000 years. How easy will it be to simply eliminate NASA as the staggering costs of such a huge project face the financial constrictions of his tax cuts and the never-ending war on terror?

I sincerely believe this was a Machiavellian move to force the wholesale elimination of the agency.

Eisenhower's stated opinions about the military-industrial complex also stand in stark contrast to the attitudes of the current and most recent presidents. Unfortuately, that battle is lost.

Nice point. -ed.

Don't forget that �to understand and protect our home planet� was deleted from NASA's mission statement in 2006.