Washington's Attacks on Science "Pervasive"

Political distortions of the scientific process have undergone a dramatic rise in Washington over the past six years, according to the Senate testimony of Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute. Gleick's testimony (download - PDF) was provided to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Climate Change Research and Science Integrity Wednesday. Misuse of science and attacks on scientists, Gleick finds, have been pervasive and categorical.

Good, independent science - indeed good information in general - is crucial to making good political decisions. ... It is difficult enough to make intelligent policy choices given the complexities of today's political, environmental, economic, and social challenges. It is almost impossible when good science or data are ignored or distorted, or when bad science is sought out to support pre-determined political conclusions.

Gleick made several recommendations to the Senate Committee, including the reinstatement of independent advisory committees, prohibiting the censoring of scientific findings, and encouraging transparency and open access to decision making. He also submitted a comprehensive summary of the types and categories of deceit and abuse in the scientific process (download - PDF). Examples include mischaracterizing arguments, misusing facts, scientific misconduct, personal attacks on scientists, and arguments from ideology rather than evidence.

In the long run, the truth of whether the earth is round (mostly), goes around the sun (so the best evidence shows), or is warming due to industrial activity (considered 'very likely' i.e., more than 90% certainty) will be demonstrated on the global stage. Short-term political or economic advantage must be trumped by our collective responsibilities to protect public health, the environment, and our national security and to ensure that our decisions are informed by the best available information.

Dr. Gleick is a MacArthur Fellow and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. He oversees the Pacific Institute's Integrity of Science Program, which was launched in 2005 to respond to and counter the assault on science and scientific integrity in the public policy arena, especially on issues related to water, climate change, and security.


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