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Sample Chapter from Corrupted Science by John Grant

Chapter 6 (iii)

Bush's America

    That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.

—Unnamed Senior Bush Administration Official,
cited by Ron Suskind in "Without a Doubt" New York Times,
October 17 2004

    In short, it is prudent to regard the committed and politically ambitious parts of the anti-science phenomenon as a
    reminder of the Beast that slumbers below. When it awakens, as it has again and again over the past few centuries,
    and as it undoubtedly will again some day, it will make its true power known.

—Gerald Holton, Science and Anti-Science (1993)

Holton's words above have an eerie tang for US readers today, after several years in which Holton's "anti-science phenomenon" has been embedded deep within the highest offices of government, scientific findings that conflict with the ideological or commercial preconceptions of the Administration being either rejected or suppressed – or even falsified. What follows can be at best a sketch; there has, quite simply, been far too much corruption of science by this Administration for a single chapter to cover it all, or even touch upon it all. Hopefully the examples given here will serve to indicate the general, devastating pattern – snapshots, as it were, of an immense catastrophe. Readers seeking a fuller account are referred to Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science (2005) and Seth Shulman's Undermining Science (2006).

The Inconvenient Truth

Of all the areas in which the Bush Administration has abused science, the one that has received the most attention is global warming. For a number of years it has been the consensus of the international climatological community that the global climate is approaching a catastrophic change because of the release of greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels. There may be other contributors towards this approaching catastrophe, but the human contribution is the only one we can do anything about. There is no question that this is the case. There are no dissenters among qualified climatologists except a few mavericks – "few" being a misleadingly strong word for a number that is so small as to be statistically invisible.

This fact is inconvenient for those industries whose livelihood currently depends on our burning fossil fuels, such as the oil and automobile corporations. It is therefore inconvenient also for politicians whose political or personal welfare depends on the financial contributions of those corporations. Ironically, many corporations outside the US, and increasingly within the country, have looked at the need for humankind to find alternative sources of energy and realized there are healthy profits to be made. Yet dinosaur corporations worldwide have entered a state of denial about the harshness of the situation, and, like spoilt children told to stop playing with a live grenade, have mounted vociferous protests against reality – as if reality, like politicians, could be swayed by bullying or bribery.

If there's essentially no question at all among climatologists as to this reality, inevitably, as with anything complex, there's debate over the details. Is the tipping point where catastrophe becomes inevitable years in the future or decades? How great is the current acceleration of glacial melting? How high will the waters rise? What will be the rate of desertification? Is the death of the Gulf Stream a matter of certainty or is a reprieve feasible? All of these discussions concern not whether the outlook is grim or optimistic but just the degree of grimness.

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration has distorted the picture of the situation it presents to the US public by pretending these debates over details are debates over substance. "The jury is still out on climate change" has been a constantly recurring, and completely dishonest, catchphrase. As a consequence the majority of the US public, unlike their counterparts throughout the rest of the world, were until very recently unaware of just how bleak the future is likely to be unless effective – and drastic – action is taken almost immediately. There has thus been little public spur to force the legislators of Senate and House of Representatives to curb those of their actions that, crazily, actually promote increases in the consumption of fossil fuels, let alone to do what is urgently required, to introduce legislation that will reduce the consumption through such measures as mandatorily enforced fuel economies in new automobiles and, most necessarily of all, initiating a quest to find new, renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

It would be bad enough were the members of the Bush Administration to confine their corruption of climate science to campaign speeches and the like. It is bad enough that through their legislative actions they make the situation more parlous, not less. But they go further, using Stalinist techniques to distort or suppress the climate science they find distasteful in the reports produced by their own scientific advisory bodies.

One of the worst such incidents occurred in 2003 when the White House intervened to make a number of fundamental changes to a Draft Report on the Environment that had been produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some of these were:

  • Removal of all references to the 2001 report Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, produced for the Administration by the National Academy of Sciences Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources. This report, which in strong terms supported the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that climate change caused by human activities is imminent and its effects on human civilization will be catastrophic unless measures are taken immediately to ameliorate them, was effectively buried on its release through Administration members grossly misrepresenting its conclusions. Now they insisted that mention of it be expunged from the EPA report.
  • The removal of a record covering global temperatures over the past 1000 years. Instead, according to a despairing internal EPA memo dated April 29 2003 on the changes demanded by the Administration: "Emphasis is given to a recent, limited analysis [that] supports the Administration's favored message."
  • Still quoting from that memo, "The summary sentence has been [deleted]: 'Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.' . . . The sections addressing impacts on human health and ecological effects are deleted. So are two references to effects on human health. . . . Sentences have been deleted that called for further research on effects to support future indicators."
  • The Administration inserted reference to the 2003 paper "Proxy Climatic and Environmental Change of the Past 1000 Years" which, although it had appeared in the journal Climate Research, was in large part funded by the American Petroleum Institute. This paper's conclusions had been comprehensively discredited in the literature and thus, quite correctly, ignored by the EPA.
  • Again from the internal EPA memo: "Uncertainty is inserted (with 'potentially' or 'may') where there is essentially none. For example, the introductory paragraph on climate change . . . says that changes in the radiative balance of the atmosphere 'may' affect weather and climate. EPA had provided numerous scientific citations, and even Congressional testimony by Patrick J. Michaels, to show that this relationship is not disputed."
  • "Repeated references now may leave an impression that cooling is as much an issue as warming."

The EPA discussed internally the best way of coping with these distortions of scientific fact, and eventually concluded that all it could do was delete entirely its report's section on climate change: anything else would grossly misrepresent the truth and make the EPA and its scientists subject to ridicule. The omission had what one assumes must have been the desired effect: it drew attention to the fact that the White House had, in effect, attempted to make the EPA a mouthpiece for its own ideology. Not just scientists but politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike, although the Administration was swift to smear them as "partisan" – criticized the Administration's actions; among the most prominent Republican critics was Russell Train, who had been the Administrator of the EPA under two Republican presidents, Nixon and Ford. The Republican EPA Administrator whom the Bush White House had itself appointed, Christine Todd Whitman (b1946), soon departed in apparent disgust at the whoring of the truth she had been expected to institute.

The emasculation of the EPA report is, unfortunately, just one example among many. In March 2005 Rick Piltz resigned from the Climate Change Science Program, accusing that political appointees within that body were acting so as to "impede forthright communication of the state of climate science [and attempting to] undermine the credibility and integrity of the program". On June 8 2005 the New York Times published documents from Piltz's office which had been edited by Philip A. Cooney, a lawyer without scientific training who had represented the oil industry in its fight to prevent restrictions being placed on the emission of greenhouse gases and who was by now, incredibly, Chief-of-Staff of the White House Council in Environmental Quality. The effect of Cooney's edits was, as the New York Times summarized, "to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust". In one instance he had removed from a report on the projected impact of global warming on water supplies and flooding a paragraph outlining likely reductions of mountain glaciers; his marginal note stated that the paragraph was "straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings".

That same day, June 8, Bush spokesman Scott McLellan denied charges that the Administration was trying to make climate change, and the human contribution to it, appear a matter of scientific uncertainty rather than known reality. It would seem that McLellan must have been given false information. He also claimed that it was standard procedure for political appointees to edit government-sponsored scientific reports before their publication, which was surprising news to many. Two days later Cooney resigned as Chief-of-Staff of the White House Council in Environmental Quality, but he didn't stay unemployed for long: within days he was hired by Exxon Mobil.

A new outcry arose in the early days of 2006 when the distinguished NASA scientist James E. Hansen (b1941) went public with complaints that his discussions of climate science were being impeded and censored by political appointees within the NASA administrative staff. This was not the first time Hansen had been at the centre of a storm over the politically motivated censorship of science: back in 1988, under the George H.W. Bush Administration, he had testified before Congress that he was 99% certain that long-term global warming, probably owing to a greenhouse effect caused by overuse of fossil fuels, had already begun, and that the time to start doing something about it was now. In 1989 he discovered that this testimony had been "edited", presumably at the behest of the oil and automobile industries, by the Office of Management and Budget to stress "scientific uncertainties". Now he was up against a perhaps even worse case of censorship, this time motivated not just by political but also, incredibly, by Christian fundamentalist considerations. He had been told by NASA officials that the Public Affairs staff had been instructed to review his forthcoming lectures, papers, newspaper requests for interviews, and the like. This was because of Hansen's insistence on speaking about the urgent subject of climate change – a not unreasonable insistence, since his NASA job was to direct the computer simulation of global climate at the Goddard Institute.

Initially the NASA administrative staff came out fighting. Dean Acosta, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, said there were no special restrictions on Hansen that did not apply to all NASA scientists: scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but policy statements should be left to policy makers and to appointed political spokesmen – a position that might seem understandable until you start wondering who decides where the line is drawn between scientific and policy statements. Clearly Hansen's justified warnings about climate change were being classified as the latter. According to the New York Times's Andrew C. Revkin, reporting on the issue on January 29 2006 as part of his excellent series of articles following the whole fracas:

    The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

Very soon attention focused on George C. Deutsch, a 24-year-old public affairs officer at NASA HQ, a Bush appointee whose sole qualifications appeared to be that he had been a part of the 2004 Bush–Cheney re-election campaign. In one specific instance, when National Public Radio wanted to interview Hansen, Deutsch refused permission: his reasoning was, he told a Goddard Institute staffer, that NPR was the country's "most liberal" media voice, while his, Deutsch's, job was to "make the President look good". A few days later it was revealed that Deutsch had instructed the designer of the NASA website to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang:

    It is not NASA's place, nor should it be, to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator. . . . This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean that we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.

This is NASA, remember?

Revkin went on to report that scientists at the climate laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, accustomed in earlier years to taking journalists' phone calls whenever they wanted, were now permitted to do so only if an interview had been given the green light by Washington and only if a public affairs officer was able to monitor the conversation. Meanwhile, those rare government science employees who disagreed about the need to curb fossil-fuel emissions were permitted to lecture and publish at will.

To his great credit, the Chairman of the House Science Committee, Sherwood Boehlert, despite being a Republican and therefore expected to toe the political line, backed Hansen: "Political figures ought to be reviewing their public statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science. Scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy." (Sadly, Boehlert retired from Congress in 2006.) Unsurprisingly, not all of his Republican colleagues concurred; a spokesman for Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (b1934) stated: "It seems that Dr Hansen, once again, is using his government position to promote his own views and political agenda, which is a clear violation of governmental procedure in any Administration." Read that again: Hansen's "political agenda"?

This was to become a theme in the Administration's attempts to smear Hansen rather than correct what was obviously an iniquitous situation. Not long afterwards, it was discovered by Nick Anthis of the Scientific Activist blog (www.scientificactivist.blogspot.com) that George Deutsch, the youthful appointee whose actions had been Hansen's final straw, had "exaggerated" his curriculum vitae a little when applying for the NASA post. (Another recurring theme among Bush political appointees; Michael Brown had similarly "exaggerated" his career when joining FEMA.) Within hours Deutsch resigned his position. Speaking the day afterwards, February 9, on Radio WTAW-AM, he said:

    Dr James Hansen has for a long time been a proponent of a particular global warming agenda, that being that global warming is a horrific imminent problem that will destroy the Earth very soon and that all steps need to be taken to stop it. What he is willing to do is to smear people and to misrepresent things to the media and to the public to get that message across. What's sad here is that there are partisan ties of his all the way up to the top of the Democratic Party, and he's using those ties, and using his media connections, to push an agenda, a worst-case-scenario agenda of global warming, a sky-is-falling agenda of global warming, and anybody who is even perceived to disagree with him is labelled a censor and is demonized and vilified in the media, and the media of course is a willing accomplice here. . . . What you do have is hearsay coming from a handful of people who have clear partisan ties, and they're really coming after me as a Bush appointee and the rest of the Bush appointees because this is a partisan issue. It's a culture-war issue, they do not like Republicans, they do not like people who support the President, they do not like Christians, and if you're perceived to be disagreeing with them or being one of those people they will stop at nothing to discredit you.

It is yet another recurring theme that the Administration's technique, when confronted by criticism, is to accuse the critics of "just playing partisan politics", but it was a little startling to find it in this context – and as startling to discover that Deutsch regarded scientific conclusions as being somehow obedient to agendas. As the New York Times remarked in a February 9 editorial, "The shocker was not NASA's failure to vet Mr Deutsch's credentials, but that this young politico with no qualifications was able to impose his ideology on other agency employees."

It would be wrong to think, though, that the problem was merely one of a zealous young maverick. All this time, further horror stories were emerging from NASA about political manipulation of science, especially in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. Bush had declared his great visionary goal was for the US to place a man on Mars, and the instructions were passed down through the NASA hierarchies that all NASA news releases should stress the contribution NASA scientists were making toward this "vision statement". Some of the results were ludicrous. In a December 2004 news release about research on wind patterns and warming in the Indian Ocean, JPL scientist Tong Lee was quoted as saying that some of the methods used in the study would be useful also in space exploration and studying the climate systems on other planets. Queried by his colleagues as to this statement, a startled Lee demanded that it be removed; NASA's press office duly removed it, but not NASA's public-affairs office in Washington, which retained it on the NASA website. And stories began emerging of how Gretchen Cook-Anderson, a NASA press officer whose job in 2004 was to manage the release of news in the earth sciences, had been pressurized by politically appointed senior members of NASA's hierarchy, notably Glenn Mahone, then Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, to keep back until after the 2004 presidential election what might be seen as unfavourable news for the Administration's "the science is still unclear" pretence about global warming. Similarly, even through 2006 there was still a concerted political effort to expunge the phrase "global warming" from NASA sites and press releases in favour of the seemingly more neutral "climate change".

Finally, in late February 2006, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin began to conduct a review of NASA's communications policies that was hailed by scientists there as a genuine attempt to root out at least some of the political censorship and corruption of science that had become endemic in the agency. Hansen himself expressed cautious optimism. On March 14 Revkin reported him as saying: "The battle to achieve open communication between government scientists and their employer, the public, is far from won."

Seemingly so. In 2006 Pieter Tans and James Elkins, senior scientists at the Boulder, Colorado, laboratory of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recounted to federal investigators how between 2000 and February 2005, when Russia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, divisional director David Hofmann had a standing instruction that they were to make no mention of the word "Kyoto" during any of their presentations. Further, when in late 2005 Tans was organizing the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference, he was instructed by Hofmann that the term "climate change" must not appear in the titles of any of the presentations. (Tans ignored the prohibition.) In response to the latter account, Hofmann said that he must have been misunderstood: he had merely been saying that a conference on global carbon-dioxide measurements should stick to exactly that, and not veer off into discussions of climate change!

Belatedly driven by the force of public opinion to admit that climate change was a reality and that something should be done about it, Bush pledged in late 2006 that increased research would be the centrepiece of his new climate strategy. Within weeks it emerged from a National Academy of Sciences study that over the previous two years NASA's earth-sciences budget had been reduced by 30%, with no plans for any reversal of the trend – indeed, the reckoning was that by 2010 the number of operative earth-observing instruments in US satellites would fall by 40%. This was in the context of a little-changed NASA budget: the funds that should have been spent on this critical work were instead being put toward preparation for a manned lunar base, a media-friendly scheme imposed on NASA by political fiat. While no one would object to the lunar-base project in principle, its status is far from urgent: moves to tackle climate change, by contrast, are. As a New York Times editorial summarized, "Studies that affect the livability of the planet seem vastly more consequential than completing a space station or returning to the Moon by an arbitrary date."

One crucial aspect in assessing global warming is assessing the earth's albedo (reflectivity); through knowledge of the albedo one can infer our planet's net energy balance. To this end, NASA built the Deep Space Climate Observatory, designed to be placed at the Lagrange-1 stationary orbit between the earth and the sun. At the time of writing, that instrument waits in a warehouse at Goddard, unlaunched and with no foreseeable prospects of being so.


The Administration's continued denial of the science concerning climate change was assisted in no small measure by the chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator James Inhofe, who from 2003 until his replacement in early 2007 by Senator Barbara Boxer (b1940) – the Democrats having won both houses of Congress a few weeks earlier – used his position to promulgate the notion that global warming is simply a grandiose hoax put about by tree-huggers1: "The greatest climate threat we face may be coming from alarmist computer models." It is hard to work out if Inhofe was corrupting science for reasons of political expediency or simply through stupidity.

    1 This thesis was also advanced by novelist Michael Crichton (b1942) in State of Fear (2004). Alarmingly, in the wake of the novel's publication Crichton was called to the White House to consult with the President, as a supposed expert, on the "debate" concerning the science of climate change.

His claim continues to be that the earth is experiencing a natural warming trend that began around 1850, at the end of the four-century cool period known as the Little Ice Age, and that human activities have nothing to do with it; thus it's pointless for us to institute measures like capping greenhouse-gas emissions. To back up his case, Inhofe points to the period between the 1940s and the 1970s, when global temperatures fell slightly even as fossil-fuel consumption rose. This was certainly the case in the Northern Hemisphere, but represents only a minor fluctuation in a curve that has gone steadily upward since about the time of the Industrial Revolution; the earth's climate is an incredibly complex mechanism to which numerous factors contribute, so short-term fluctuations are to be expected in any of its trends. This is why there are disagreements in detail between the various computer models Inhofe decries as unreliable and alarmist: what he omits to mention is that they all agree to within a very narrow margin on the general picture – that human-generated global warming is a reality, and that the earth is rapidly approaching a climate crisis. Focusing on disagreements over the timing of the crisis is like arguing over whether one's speeding car is 10 or 20 metres from a cliff-edge.

For his swansong as chairman of the Senate's committee, Inhofe chose to hold on December 6 2006 a hearing concerning media coverage of climate change: laughably, he claimed the popular US news media were overhyping the subject, when a steady complaint from scientists and the informed public since before the dawn of the 21st century was that those media were largely ignoring it. This situation began to improve in 2006 largely due to a rise in public awareness brought about by the publicity surrounding the movie An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the climax of a campaign the movie's mainstay, Al Gore (b1948), had – despite much derision from rightist pundits – been waging for some 30 years: the mainstream news outlets could no longer get away with ignoring something that most of their audience were talking about.2

    2 Following the world premiere of the blockbuster movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) in New York, Gore's slide show about global warming was seen by Laurie David, wife of TV comedian Larry David; Gore had been giving the show here and there all over the world since his disputed loss of the 2000 presidential election. Laurie David was sufficiently inspired by Gore's presentation and passion that she gathered a team to make a feature movie of it. In February 2007 An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, received an Oscar.

Inhofe's hearing had its hilarious moments. The geologist David Deming, a stalwart of the anti-environmentalist organization the National Center for Policy Analysis, began his closing statement thus:

    As far as I know, there isn't a single person anywhere on earth that's ever been killed by global warming. There is not a single species that's gone extinct. In fact, I'm not aware, really, of any deleterious effects whatsoever. It's all speculation.

The extinction over the past few years of numerous species owing to global warming is well documented – as a single example, over 70 species of tree frogs have gone. At the time of writing, there are major fears that polar bears may be driven to extinction within a matter of years as their Arctic habitat melts, and with it the bears' ability to find food. As for human deaths due to global warming, Deming presumably forgot about the tens of thousands of heat-related deaths in Europe, 10,000 in France alone, during the summer of 2003.


The political corruption of science under the Bush Administration has not been confined to the politicians themselves – far from it: propagandists in the broadcast media have played a major part in creating and maintaining the whole mess. Some are more egregious than others; listing the scientific distortions perpetrated by, say, radio shoutmeister Rush Limbaugh (b1951) would fill a book3. To cite just a single media incident as representative of a myriad others, in the January 21 2006 issue of the TV series The Journal Editorial Report, broadcast by Fox News and linked to the Wall Street Journal, WSJ editorial page editor Paul A. Gigot and his deputy, Daniel Henninger, discussed a report recently released by the Max Planck Institute. Henninger used it as an excuse to attack the Kyoto Accord:

    . . . the eminent Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, has just reported in Nature magazine that plants, trees, forests emit 10% to 30% of the methane gas into the atmosphere. This is a greenhouse gas, the sort of stuff the Kyoto Treaty is meant to suppress. So, this is causing big problems for the tree-huggers, if plants, in fact, do cause greenhouse gases, and I have just one message for them: the next time you are out for a walk in the woods, breathe the methane.

    3 Such as The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (1995) by Steve Rendall, Jim Naureckas and Jeff Cohen. Howlers include that it is volcanoes, rather than manmade chlorofluorocarbons, that damage the ozone layer; that it has not been proven that nicotine is addictive; that low levels of dioxin exposure aren't harmful; that the failure rate of condoms in preventing HIV infection is as high as 20%; and that there were fewer acres of forest land in the US in the time of the Founders than there are now.
Fair comment, one might suppose, were it not for the fact that the report's very first sentence specifies that, because of human activities, the atmospheric concentration of methane has approximately tripled since the pre-industrial era, in which context the 10–30% contribution of plants is irrelevant; before the advent of industrialization, it was obviously far higher in percentage terms (when human contributions were virtually zero). The absolute level of plant methane production has been gradually decreasing during the same period, again thanks to human activities (such as deforestation).

Just to reinforce their point, the report's authors issued a press release on January 18, three days before the Gigot–Henninger distortion, in which they spelt out the truth: "The most frequent misinterpretation we find in the media is that emissions of methane from plants are responsible for global warming." They add that, while reforestation might trivially increase methane production, it at the same time has the important beneficial effect of increasing the amount of plant absorption of the far more dangerous greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. While the excuse could be made that Gigot and Henninger were guilty of no more than bad journalism – failure to check facts – or plain ignorance, these seem unlikely given their positions at the Wall Street Journal, where there are fact-checkers aplenty. The most probable explanation is that their presentation was a deliberate corruption of the scientific information for ideological purposes.

That same week, on January 25, CNN weatherman Chad Myers put forward his own hypothesis as to what he regards as the illusion of global warming. Temperatures only seem to be rising as much as they are because buildings are tending to spring up around the thermometers used by climate scientists, and of course these suddenly mushrooming metropolitan areas are warmer than the surrounding countryside. Climate scientists are obviously too stupid to take account of this effect. Myers did not expand on quite how his hypothesis explains the increased melting of the polar icecaps.

In despair at such stuff, in January 2007 Heidi Cullen, a TV meteorologist and host of the programme The Climate Code, called upon the American Meteorological Society to withdraw its customary endorsement from those broadcasting weather forecasters who tried to plant doubts in viewers' minds about the reality of climate change. She pointed out that if, for example, a meteorologist claimed on-air that tsunamis were caused by the weather, the meteorologist would be immediately recognized as incompetent and probably fired. Meteorologists who denied global warming should be treated likewise.


Finally, in his State of the Union address of January 2007, President Bush acknowledged for the first time the existence and threat of anthropogenic global warming. At the time of writing he has yet to propose, or even support, any realistic measures to do anything about it.

Our God-Given Environment

    Under Bush [as State Governor], Texas had the highest volume of air pollution, with the highest ozone levels of any state – while ranking forty-sixth in spending on environmental problems. Moreover, after 1994 Texas was the nation's leading source of greenhouse gases, accounting for 14 percent of the annual US total while boasting only 7 percent of the US population. Under Bush, Texas's oil refineries became the nation's dirtiest, with the highest level of pollution per barrel of oil processed. And because all such industrial effluvia are concentrated in or near the state's poorest neighborhoods, Bush's Texas also led the nation in the number of Title VI civil rights complaints against a state environmental agency – in this case, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), which Governor Bush staffed brazenly with staunch anti-environmentalists like Ralph Marquez, a veteran of Monsanto Chemical, and Barry McBee, of the pro-business law firm Thompson & Knight.

    —Mark Crispin Miller, The Bush Dyslexicon (2001)

The name of the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative of 2003 deployed the technique of Newspeak in order to disguise what it was in fact about: through replacing the Clean Air Act, introduced in 1963 and bolstered several times, most recently in 1990 by the George H.W. Bush Administration, the aim of the Clear Skies Initiative is to loosen the controls on industrial polluters, thereby inevitably increasing air pollution and the consequent sickness and death rates.

It's worth summarizing the achievements of the Clean Air Act. Even before the Act's 1990 strengthening, the EPA estimated the Act had saved 205,000 premature deaths within the continental US. Further, "millions" of US citizens had been spared illnesses ranging up to

    heart disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, and other serious respiratory problems. In addition, the lack of the Clean Air Act controls on the use of leaded gasoline would have resulted in major increases in child IQ loss and adult hypertension, heart disease and stroke.

In 1999 the EPA did a study of the effects of the 1990 bolstering of the Act and estimated that, in the single year 2010, 23,000 premature deaths would be prevented because of it, not to mention 67,000 incidents of chronic and acute bronchitis and a whopping 1.7 million asthma attacks. For that one year, 4.1 million work days would be saved – an enormous contribution to the US economy.

The Bush Administration disliked the Clean Air Act for ideological reasons: the thrust of almost all of the Administration's environmental policies has been to reduce the legal obligations of business at the expense, if necessary, of ordinary citizens. A particular concern of the Administration related to the regulations governing mercury emissions by coal-fired power plants; mercury is a neurotoxin. Accordingly, the White House watched carefully as the EPA compiled an advisory report, scheduled for release in 2002, which examined the effect of environmental factors on children's health. That report concluded 8% of US women aged 16–49 (i.e., of potential child-bearing age) had blood mercury levels that significantly increased the likelihood of any children they bore having deficient motor skills and reduced intelligence.

And this was before the introduction of the Clear Skies Initiative, which would further increase atmospheric mercury levels in the US! Accordingly, in May 2002, before the report's release, it was taken by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for "review". Nine months later, in February 2003, when it still hadn't emerged from that "review" process, it was leaked by someone at the EPA to the Wall Street Journal (a newspaper generally very much in the Bush Administration camp). It seems likely that the report – which was then hurriedly issued by an embarrassed Administration – would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the leak, and for the Wall Street Journal's decision to run the story in extenso.

Clearly action had to be taken to ensure the EPA didn't commit such a faux pas again – putting scientific fact above political considerations. The chastened EPA accordingly produced in early 2004 a revised set of proposals on the regulation of power-plant mercury emissions. Almost immediately it was discovered that 12 paragraphs of the report had been copied, more or less verbatim, from a strategy document produced earlier by power-industry lawyers.

Horrified by the effect the Clear Skies Initiative was likely to have on the nation's health, four senators – three Republicans and one Democrat – proposed a countermeasure that would tackle the problems of atmospheric carbon dioxide, nitrous and nitric oxides, sulphur dioxide and mercury. Their proposal was passed to the EPA for analysis in terms of costs and benefits. For months there was silence. Finally, in July 2003, another despairing EPA staffer leaked internal documents to the press, this time the Washington Post: the four senators' proposal would be more effective and speedier in reducing the pollutants than the Clear Skies Initiative, thereby saving some 18,000 lives by 2010, not to mention some $50 billion annually in health costs. The costs to industry of implementing the senators' proposal rather than the Clear Skies Initiative would be, the EPA concluded, "negligible". According to EPA staffers, this information was suppressed by Jeffrey Holmstead, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation.

Holmstead is yet a further example of the placing of appointees in positions within the science agencies for which they have no relevant qualifications except political loyalty; before his appointment, he was a lawyer, employed by the firm Latham & Watkins, which represented one of the US's largest plywood manufacturers. In January 2002 Holmstead, by now at the EPA, held a meeting of EPA staffers and the EPA Air Office's general counsel, William Wehrum, who by curious coincidence had previously been a partner in . . . Latham & Watkins. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a rule governing emissions of formaldehyde by wood-products plants. To represent the industry were Timothy Hunt, a lobbyist for the American Forest & Paper Association, and that organization's lawyer, Claudia O'Brien, who had earlier been a partner in . . . Latham & Watkins.

O'Brien recommended that supposedly low-risk products should be exempt from any new emission controls, since the cost of introducing them would make US manufacturers vulnerable to cheaper foreign competition. To the astonishment of the staffers, who knew that this proposal would violate the 1990 Clean Air Act provisions, Holmstead backed it.

So far as the Clear Skies Initiative and emissions by power plants were concerned, the Administration apparently decided EPA leakers might continue to bedevil White House adulteration of science, and thus introduced a new scheme. The New Source Review, by which power-plant emissions were gauged, would be "re-interpreted" – in other words, made less stringent. In 2002, Holmstead reassured a Senate Committee that the new, laxer rules would not be applied retroactively. Surprise, surprise, in November 2003 the top brass of the EPA announced to staffers that the rules would be applied retroactively: cases against about 50 coal-burning power plants guilty of violating the Clean Air Act were to be dropped. This was done at the instigation of the mysterious energy task force convened earlier by Vice President Richard M. Cheney (b1941); the precise personnel of the task force has been stubbornly concealed from Congress and public alike, but it is known to have been staffed entirely by representatives of the power industry.

In February 2005 the EPA's Inspector General admitted that pressure had been put on the body's scientists to alter their reported results on the impact of mercury pollution to bring them into line with the industry-friendly conclusions the Administration demanded. That same month, the Government Accountability Office announced that indeed the EPA's results had been falsified so as to give the impression that mercury poisoning's effects on brain development in fetuses and infants were significantly less than they in fact are. The EPA responded to these grave charges by making no changes at all to its final ruling, which was issued on March 15 2005.

Shortly afterwards, yet another piece of scientific fraud was discovered. A government-commissioned Harvard study had shown the costs of mercury pollution to be higher than previously thought, and the benefits of tighter control greater. The results of this study had been suppressed entirely by the EPA's political appointees.


In early 2006, a new measure to reduce environmental protection was a proposal to emasculate the Toxics Release Inventory program. This program, initiated during the aftermath of the 1986 disaster in Bhopal, India, requires companies to declare annually how they are disposing of some 650 different toxic chemicals in their wastes – in other words, where the poisons are going and how their environmental impact is being controlled. The new initiative would reduce the frequency of reporting from annually to biannually, would increase by a factor of 10 the threshold over which the reporting of released toxins had to be reported, and would remove altogether the obligation to report the release of cumulative toxins – such as lead and mercury – up to an annual level of about 275kg (500 pounds).

Unsurprisingly, the Attorneys General of 12 states were among the countless individuals and organizations who immediately protested: they have lives to save rather than profits to protect. After disasters like 2005's Hurricane Katrina, for example, it's vital that responders have ready access to information as to where toxic chemicals might have been released by the upheaval. Perhaps more surprisingly, companies and corporations were far from unanimous in welcoming the proposed relaxation of the rules, with many saying they would carry on reporting under the old rules anyway. Typical was the reaction of Edwin L. Mongan III, Director of Energy and Environment at DuPont: "It's just a good business practice to track your hazardous materials."


    The American Medical Association no longer advises American delegations to UN summits on children's issues; Concerned Women for America does instead. Leaders of the National Association of People with AIDS no longer sit on the presidential AIDS advisory council, though religious abstinence advocates do; and members of the right-wing Federalist Society now vet judicial nominees rather than the mainstream American Bar Association.

—Esther Kaplan, With God on Their Side (2004)

As noted, the ploy of making political appointments to supposedly scientific posts is endemic. Yet another example is James Connaughton, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, an advisory agency to the executive office of the President. His responsibility is "to bring together the nation's environmental, social, and economic priorities" and to "prepare the president's annual environmental quality report to Congress" – very important responsibilities indeed, especially in an era where the environment is, and hence human lives are, under greater threat than ever.

Connaughton is not an environmental scientist but a lawyer, and a lawyer who has countless times done battle with the EPA on behalf of big business. In 1993 he was the co-author of the article "Defending Charges of Environmental Crime – The Growth Industry of the 90s"; this appeared in Champion Magazine, published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has lobbied on environmental issues on behalf of major corporations and corporate associations including the Aluminum Company of America, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and General Electric. The latter is believed responsible for more toxic sites in the US than any .4 ASARCO, another of Connaughton's clients, has lobbied that the US adhere to the 1942 drinking-water standard that permitted 50 parts per billion of arsenic. These are among many other corporate and trade association clients Connaughton has represented at the state, federal and international level, frequently acting as their defence lawyer in cases of environmental crimes.

    4 Although very recently it has begun to make welcome noises about cleaning up its act.

It could of course be argued that Connaughton is qualified to be Chair of the CEQ on the grounds of his supreme knowledge of environmental law. It could equally be argued that Al Capone had a supreme knowledge of the criminal law, without necessarily regarding him as an ideal candidate for the office of Attorney General. Presumably, though, Connaughton passed the relevant political "litmus test" – an approval based on ideological loyalties rather than scientific qualifications. Bush-appointed Science Advisor John H. Marburger III (b1941), who is a scientist, has stated: "[T]he accusation of a litmus test that must be met before someone can serve on an advisory panel is preposterous." In fact, numerous eminent scientists have reported that exactly such a test has been applied to them when they were being considered for relevant posts within the Administration. The Union of Concerned Scientists has investigated these reports and detailed many of them in its various publications (see Bibliography) called Scientific Integrity in Policymaking. It seems Marburger must have been speaking on the basis of incorrect information.

Further curious appointees in the area of the environment have included Gale Norton (b1954) as Secretary of the Interior and Ann Veneman (b1949) as Agricultural Secretary. Both were protégées of the infamous James Watt (b1938), the anti-environmentalist appointed by Ronald Reagan as his Secretary of the Interior, and have worked for Watt's Mountain States Legal Foundation – self-described on occasion as "the litigation arm of Wise Use" (see page 00).


There was a solution to all these problems. In early 2007 Bush issued an executive order to ensure White House control, either directly or through political appointees, over the directives issued by the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, among other federal agencies. It was one of his baldest moves yet to subject the findings of science to ideological manipulation. We can expect more.

Nasty! Dirty! Horrid!

Sex education is yet another area bedevilled by the practice of installing political appointees. In his first term Bush appointed Claude Allen (b1960) as his deputy secretary of Health and Human Services; Allen's primary qualifications appeared to be that he opposed abortion and promoted sexual abstinence and Christian homeschooling. Kay Coles James was put in charge of the Office of Personnel; she had previously been a vice-president of the Family Research Council, a Christian right "traditional values" organization. Esther Kaplan, in With God on Their Side (2004), notes: "For a window into her worldview, one can look to her 1995 book Transforming America from the Inside Out, in which James likened gay people to alcoholics, adulterers and drug addicts." Another alumnus of the Family Research Council, Senator Thomas Coburn (b1948), was appointed joint chair of the presidential advisory council on HIV/AIDS. Robert Schlesinger, writing in Salon in September 2004, quotes Coburn as follows:

    The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power . . . That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda.
Leaving aside the mystery of why gays should be so keen to promote abortion, Coburn, with his frequent anti-gay tirades, would seem an odd choice to offer objective advice on AIDS. (His views on abortion are odd, too: he has advocated the death penalty for doctors who've performed abortions despite himself having, as an obstetrician, performed abortions.)

But perhaps the most controversial of this wave of appointments was that of W. David Hager (b1946) in 2002 to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); according to Time magazine for October 5 2002, "Hager was chosen for the post by FDA senior associate commissioner Linda Arey Skladany, a former drug-industry lobbyist with longstanding ties to the Bush family." He is an obstetrician and gynaecologist with impressive conservative-Christian credentials – Focus on the Family, Christian Medical and Dental Society, etc. – is a tireless advocate of "traditional family values", and is author of books like As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now (1998).

Some of his medical views are idiosyncratic: in one of his books he recommends Bible study as a cure for menstrual cramps, and his patients have claimed (he denies this) that he refuses contraceptive prescriptions to unmarried patients. According to his own account, he was approached by the White House in 2001 and asked if he would be a possible candidate for the post of Surgeon General. Later this was amended, and he was appointed to two advisory boards. Soon afterwards, he was asked to resign from those and instead join the FDA's reproductive drugs panel as its chairman; he quoted the officials as saying, "[T]here are some issues coming up we feel are very critical, and we want you to be on that advisory board."5

    5 Just a few months earlier Hager had played an important role in the submission by the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America of a "citizens' petition" demanded that marketing and distribution of the "abortion pill" RU-486 be halted.

When his nomination as chairman of the FDA's reproductive drugs panel was announced in late 2002 there was an immediate outcry. In order to dodge the storm, the FDA used a frequent Administration trick: timing. It announced his appointment as a panel member (not chairman) on Christmas Eve, when not only was Congress out of session, and therefore unable to debate the issue, but the news was obscured from the public gaze by all the general media brouhaha over Christmas.

As for the opposition to his appointment, Hager has given this account:

    [T]here is a war going on in this country, and I'm not speaking about the war in Iraq. It's a war being waged against Christians, particularly evangelical Christians. It wasn't my scientific record that came under scrutiny, it was my faith. . . . By making myself available, God has used me to stand in the breach.
There followed the tortuous Plan B saga involving Hager. In December 2003 two scientific advisory committees at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted unanimously that the emergency retroactive contraceptive pill Plan B, which had been approved as a prescription drug in 1999, was safe for over-the-counter sale, and by a majority of 23 to 4 that it should be made available for such sale. Its safety was attested to by about 70 scientific organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – not to mention the governmental scientific advisory bodies in the 33 countries in which it was already available over the counter.

Nevertheless, on May 6 2004 the Acting Director for the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Rear-Admiral Steven Galson ruled that its open sale should continue to be prohibited. His stated grounds were that Plan B's manufacturers, Barr Pharmaceuticals, had failed to supply sufficient documentation showing the drug was suitable for use by teenagers under the age of 16 – this despite the fact that one of the two FDA scientific committees had extensively discussed exactly this point and decided there was no cause for concern; further, the committees had stressed that, in the case of very young girls, there are significant dangers involved in pregnancy, so its prevention was especially important. Of the veto Dr James Trussell, an FDA committee member and Director of Princeton University's Office of Population Research, said: "The objection . . . is nothing more than a made-up reason intended to sound plausible. From a scientific standpoint, it is complete and utter nonsense." He added: "Unfortunately, for the first time in history, the FDA is not acting as an independent agency but rather as a tool of the White House." Susan Wood, head of the Office of Women's Health, later resigned in protest, complaining that ideology had been allowed to trump science. John Jenkins, Director of the FDA's Office of New Drugs, commented: "The agency has not [previously] distinguished the safety and efficacy of Plan B and other forms of hormonal contraception among different ages of women of childbearing potential, and I am not aware of any compelling scientific reason for such a distinction in this case."

Jenkins was obviously searching the wrong area of human activity for his "compelling reason". To US right-wing Christian fundamentalists and the anti-abortion lobby, the idea of a morning-after pill was anathema, to the former because it would "obviously" unleash a torrent of promiscuity upon the land, to the latter because retroactive contraception is tantamount to abortion – the belief being that a fertilized ovum is a human being. (Despite some misleading news reports, Plan B is not in fact an abortifacient.)

According to Hager in a sermon he delivered in Wilmore, Kentucky, in October 2004, the person largely responsible for the scientific judgement being nullified was none other than himself. He claimed that, soon after the 23–4 vote, he was asked, as one of the four dissenters, to write a "minority report" outlining the reasons for rejecting the majority decision. In his own words:

    Now the opinion I wrote was not from an evangelical Christian perspective . . . I argued it from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision. Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good.
An important question is: Who asked him for the minority report? The FDA does not commonly deal in such things, generally assuming that, if an overwhelming majority on a scientific advisory panel says something, it knows what it's talking about. Initially Hager told reporters and others that the request had come from within the FDA. Evidently realizing this could lead to a major political scandal, he soon backtracked, saying instead it had come from a mysterious "someone" outside the agency, and denying he'd ever stated otherwise. (Unfortunately for this latter claim, at least one journalist had kept Hager's e-mail.) The FDA likewise denied anyone within it had issued the request, claiming Hager's memo had been just a "private citizen letter".

Subsequent to Hager's 2004 boast, his ex-wife Linda, who had divorced him in 2002 after 32 years, decided to go public about why she had finally abandoned her marriage to a man who so publicly oozed family values – and with whom she had written the book Stress and the Woman's Body (1996). According to her, Hager had been sexually and emotionally abusive throughout their marriage; the details, which are quite horrific, were given in an article in The Nation for May 30 2005 by Ayelish McGarvey. As was forcefully pointed out by many, this was not a pedigree to recommend anyone for a position of power on women's health issues – and nor was Hager's frequently expressed view that women should regard men as the disciples did Jesus.

Finally, in August 2006, after nearly three years, the FDA caved in to public outrage and impartial science, permitting the over-the-counter sale of Plan B.

Once bitten, twice not shy, however, for the Administration. In November 2006 it appointed non-board-certified obstetrician/gynaecologist Eric Keroack (b1960) as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services – i.e., as head of, among other things, the DHHS's family planning section, including the Title X program "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them, with priority given to low-income persons". His previous appointments included serving as a medical adviser to the Abstinence Clearinghouse and as medical director of the Massachusetts pregnancy-counselling network A Woman's Concern: amid much pseudoscience,6 this network opposes the provision of contraception even to married women – on the grounds that, inexplicably, contraception demeans women. Keroack also produced the pseudoscientific theory, unbacked by evidence, that women who over time have sex with a succession of different partners end up suffering an alteration in brain chemistry, through suppression of the hormone oxytocin, that makes it difficult for them thereafter to form long-term relationships. Oxytocin does indeed appear to have some effect on one's level of sociability, but the relationship is by no means a direct one: sometimes higher oxytocin levels make people grumpier, sometimes more amiable. There's no known relationship between oxytocin levels and marital/partnership happiness or number of sexual partners. After all, how could the oxytocin tell the marital status of a partner vis-à-vis the woman, or indeed one partner from another?

    6 For example, the myth that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and the myth that sex education causes teen promiscuity. One of its pieces of advice to young people is that, on the (established) grounds that condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 85%, "you have a 15% chance of contracting [HIV] while using a condom" without qualifications such as that this depends on whether or not your partner has HIV.

Ideologically opposed to contraception and a touter of pseudoscience and inaccurate medical information, Keroack is an odd pick as controller of federal funding in a scientific field whose focus is family planning – unless the hidden aim is to run Title X and its affiliated programs into the ground.


One means of distorting the nation's sex education emerged in 2002, when sharp-eyed observers discovered that the websites of the governmental health departments had been silently edited to accord more with the Administration's ideology. For example, where the site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concerned about the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, had previously stated that education on condom use did not increase youthful sexual activity and, far from encouraging an earlier onset of it, actually delayed it, that statement was found to have disappeared; furthermore, new information had been added exaggerating the risks of transferring STDs despite condom use:

    The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected. For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD.
There is no straightforward falsehood here, but the implication is distinctly different from that of a note found tucked away elsewhere on the site in a discussion of HIV: "The studies found that even with repeated sexual contact, 98–100 percent of those people who used latex condoms correctly and consistently did not become infected."

Likewise, the National Cancer Institute's site had once stressed there was no association between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer in later life; the newly edited version claimed instead (falsely) that the science on the subject was "inconclusive". The results of an enormous Danish study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, which found no relation at all between abortion and breast cancer, had been referred to approvingly on the earlier site; now there was no mention of it at all.

The adulteration of sex education is a major ideological issue; there's more on it in Chapter 00 (see page 00).

You're Joking, Right?

There was considerable staff and public outrage when, of the 23 new books and other educational products considered on 2003 by officials at the Grand Canyon for sale at the National Park, the only one accepted, Grand Canyon: A Different View (2003) by Tom Vail, was a Creationist tract. This followed the suppression in 2001 (still continuing at the time of writing) by the leadership of the Park Service of a guidance leaflet for park rangers and other staff which decreed that any discussion of Creationism should stress its lack of scientific basis; in other words, stating that it is the responsibility of scientific institutions to teach science, not myth.

The superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park, Joe Alston, attempted to have Grand Canyon: A Different View removed from sale at the park bookstores, but was promptly overruled by the head office of the National Park Service. However, the NPS's Chief of Communications, David Barna, announced there would be a high-level policy review of the issue; time showed that this was merely a publicity device to quell the growing protests, because at the end of 2006 the organization PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) was able to discover, through a Freedom of Information request, that no such review had ever been initiated, let alone carried out . . . and the book remained on sale.

As one park geologist7 put it, "This is the equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan."

    7 Cited by Jeff Ruch, PEER's Executive Director. Ruch and PEER went further – too far, in fact, their December 2006 press release claiming that, for fear of upsetting Creationists, Grand Canyon rangers were under instruction to make no comment if asked about the canyon's age; this was a few weeks later exposed as false by Michael Shermer of the magazine Skeptic. Significant was how many individuals and organizations – including the cartoon strip Doonesbury – had in the interim been fooled by the PEER claim: it seemed so much of a piece with what else was going on that few thought to question it.


The falsehoods promulgated to the public, to Congress and even to the UN by the Bush Administration in the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 have been the subject of several books. Some of these false claims were of scientific or technological interest, perhaps most notoriously the case of the 100,000 high-strength aluminium tubes which the Hussein regime had apparently attempted to acquire on the international market: these, Bush told the UN in September 2002 and Colin Powell (b1937) repeated to the UN in February 2003, could only be to serve in gas centrifuges for enriching uranium – i.e., as a preliminary for the production of nuclear weapons. It seems the tight tolerances required for the tubes' dimensions and finish persuaded at least some in the CIA that they could have no other purpose.

Technical experts from the Oak Ridge, Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories of the US Department of Energy almost immediately dismissed the belief: the tubes were of the wrong dimensions for use in gas centrifuges. They were, however, identical to tubes Iraq had bought in the past for use in medium-range rockets. The State Department agreed. These scientific assessors also pointed out that, had the tubes been intended for the purpose stated by the Administration, there would be evidence also of the Hussein regime attempting to buy countless other essential and quite specific components for uranium enrichment.

Especially focused upon later, although media pundits and politicians alike shamefully ignored it at the time, was the reiteration of the aluminium-tubes falsehood by Bush himself in his 2003 State of the Union Address despite the fact that just the previous day the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had told the UN Security Council, which includes the US, that there was no evidence whatsoever of Iraq pursuing a nuclear-weapons program or of forbidden nuclear activities taking place at the country's relevant sites, and that the IAEA's analysis of the aluminium tubes had shown they would be useless for centrifuges.

There were other science-related dishonesties involved in the propaganda buildup to the invasion, most notoriously the continuation of the claim, long after it had been shown bogus, that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Also of interest were the insinuations about the as yet unsolved case of the anthrax parcels sent to various media and Democratic figures during the Fall of 2001. Could Hussein have been behind these attacks? Various of the Administration conceded this possibility, even though it was known to them that all the evidence pointed to a domestic perpetrator, probably a right-wing extremist in the Timothy McVeigh mould. The false insinuations about the anthrax packages jigsawed in nicely with the claims concerning Hussein's stupendous armoury of biological weapons, all of which ignored the fact that those weapons had been amassed prior to the first Gulf War, so most if not all would have degraded to near-uselessness by now.8 The Administration's most Orwellian act of all, with the mainstream media as accomplice, was effectively to obliterate from US public awareness that the UN weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix (b1928), who were actually on the ground in Iraq, were clamouring that there were no signs of any active program there to create weapons of mass destruction. After the attack Bush himself rewrote history on this issue, claiming that one motive for the invasion was that the Iraqi regime had barred the UN inspectors from the country.

    8 Many had in fact been sold to Hussein by the US for use in the earlier Iran–Iraq conflict.


The deeply unscientific War on Drugs, which was intended to reduce violent crime and which is still a vote-drawing catchphrase for any aspiring politician, was not originated by the Bush Administration, dating back to the Reagan Administration and perpetuated by successive Presidents since. The war's ineffectiveness is not surprising. A Columbia University survey done in 1997 of those convicted of violent crimes found that 3% had committed their crimes while high on cocaine and 1% were heroin addicts. These percentages might seem small but significant until we compare them with the equivalent figure for those who committed their violent crimes while drunk: 21%. Add in the equally lethal crime of drunk driving and the figure for alcohol-related mayhem would of course be even higher. Another threat targeted by the War on Drugs was the problem of "crack babies" – the offspring of crack-addicted mothers – who were widely reported in the late 1980s and early 1990s to suffer a syndrome comprising a psychological condition akin to autism, only worse, and a whole slew of physiological ailments; only later in the 1990s did attention reluctantly turn to the countless scientific reports that no such syndrome could be detected, and that the real danger to the developing fetus was the mother's consumption of drugs like tobacco and especially alcohol. Yet somehow the idea of a War on Alcohol rarely surfaces . . .

In the wake of the September 2001 attacks on the US, the War on Drugs lost most of its share of the limelight to the equally touted War on Terror. Again the scientific rationale was shaky: even in 2001, when some 3000 Americans lost their lives in the attacks, US citizens were more likely to die on the roads than as a result of terrorism. In any other year but 2001, the chance of being affected by terrorism in the US was considerably less than that of being struck by lightning. Yet fear, fanned by politicians and the media, gripped the population, and few chose to examine matters too carefully when, a couple of years later, the centrepiece of the War on Terror became the invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks and, overall, however abominable its regime, less connection to international terrorism than the US itself, which during the Reagan Administration had financed terrorist organizations in South America and, it emerged in February 2007, under the Bush Administration was aiding Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organizations in Iran.


Other governments, in other times, have corrupted science for short-term political gain or for longer-term ideological reasons. In this long chapter we have looked at just three of the worst offenders. There are examples of governments imposing their own scientific beliefs on the populace from earlier centuries, but they're relatively rare outside theocracies: the political corruption of science is very much a modern phenomenon. There are, too, smaller-scale examples than these of modern governments attempting to pervert one or another aspect of science; one thinks immediately of the South African Government's mercifully brief flirtation with "traditional remedies" as a counter to the spread of AIDS. But such episodes are dwarfed by the systematic onslaught mounted by the three regimes treated here.

It might be expected that, with the internet offering ever-greater freedom of communication, such onslaughts would become progressively harder to mount. The experience of the Bush Administration has proven the opposite. Unless we, the public of any and every nation, maintain a constant vigilance, then we can expect authoritarian regimes everywhere to recognize the benefits – however illusory those benefits might in fact be – of corrupting science at its roots. If we let them get away with it, then we can indeed expect the arrival of, in every sense of the term, a new dark age.

       © 2008, Artists' & Photographers' Press LTD