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[greenyes] Fallout from Perversion of Science


The Scientist

March 9, 2004



Euros concerned for US science



Scientists worried that politics is damaging science in the US-and the world

By Ned Stafford



Some European scientists are growing increasingly concerned at the potential
wider ramifications of what they see as political interference with
scientific freedom in the US.



Scientists interviewed by The Scientist in recent days said they believed
that continued political interference from the Bush administration would not
only have a negative impact on the quality of US science, but eventually on
global science.



Carl Johan Sundberg, vice president of Euroscience, told The Scientist that
in the short-term Europe would benefit from a politicized atmosphere in the
US by attracting promising young scientists from the Middle East, Asia, and
Eastern Europe, who in the past have gravitated to the US. But he worries
that in the long term, Europe and the rest the whole world would lose if the
dynamic quality of US science deteriorates.



"The US is the most important country in the world when it comes to
science," he said. "What happens in the US is extremely important to the
global scientific community."



Criticism of the Bush administration's scientific policies is not new. Last
year, a group of Congressional Democrats released a report charging that the
administration had repeatedly manipulated the scientific process and
distorted or suppressed scientific findings to advance political and
ideological interests. The Union of Concerned Scientists and other US
scientists have started to publicly protest in recent weeks against what
they perceive as political interference from the Bush administration. They
allege that the White House has distorted scientific facts to support its
policies on the environment, public health and biomedical research.



The protest became louder on February 27, when President Bush dismissed two
members of his President's Council on Bioethics, a move that some U.S.
scientists believe was done to increase the number of conservatives on the
council. The council is charged with studying stem cell policy, among other
issues.



Sundberg, who is head of Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at
Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said of the current US scientific
environment: "When committees are stacked with people who have the correct
type of political background--I think that is very bad."



He said American scientists have told him they are appalled about what is
going on.



"All I hear when I speak to people, especially in the U.S., is that the
whole environment is politicized at a level they have never seen," he said.
"They feel there is an agenda out there and that some things are okay and
some things are not.



The chairman of the president's council responded to criticisms in an
editorial in the Washington Post, saying charges of stacking the council
were "unfounded."



Eva-Maria Streier, spokeswoman for the German Research Foundation, declined
to comment directly on alleged political interference within the US, but
said: "Basic science should be independent of political influence."



Seeking comment from the Biosciences Federation in the UK, The Scientist was
referred to Michael J. Rennie of the University of Nottingham's School of
Biomedical Sciences.



"Many people in the Bush Administration seem to hold right-wing political
views that are not compatible with science," said Rennie, a council member
of The Physiological Society.



A British citizen, Rennie studied in the 1970s at Washington University in
St. Louis, Missouri, where two of his three children were born with dual US
citizenship. "I speak as someone who is very pro-American," he said. "I have
very strong feelings of loyalty to the US."



But he believes the Bush administration is not acting in the best interests
of science. "Politics should not intrude on science," he said. He agreed
with Sundberg that Europe already has begun to benefit from "brain gain,"
with young scientists from around the world seeing Europe as now having a
"generally freer atmosphere and intellectual environment" than the US. Such
young scientists in the past had been the "lifeblood of American science,"
he said.



If Bush is re-elected in November, he believes, more US scientists will
follow the example of Roger Pedersen, who after three decades of stem cell
research at the University of California, San Francisco, moved overseas for
a position at Cambridge University.



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