Science in a Post-Bush World

After eight years of brawls with the Bush administration on issues including climate change, stem cell research and health care, scientists across the country aren't just hungry for change they can believe in, but science they can trust.

While many a scientist has picked apart a science-based policy of President Bush, the underlying issue that has sparked outrage from across the scientific community is the politicization of the discipline.

"The idea of putting ideology into decisions about science -- that has really denigrated the role of science," said Martin Chalfie, a Columbia University geneticist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry in early October.

Along with 75 other Nobel Laureates, he endorsed now-President-elect Barack Obama in an open letter that also blasted the Bush administration.

"The government's scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations. As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy," the letter said.

As Obama the senator becomes Obama the president, these scientists and throngs of others eagerly wait for him to gain the ground lost by his predecessor.

Overcoming Legacies of George W. Bush

"The past eight years of denial and delay are over," Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) President Kevin Knobloch said in a statement the morning after the election.

Particularly when it comes to policies related to global warming, the organization is looking for a fast and clean break from the approach of Bush that did not recognize man-made global warming, and obstructed international cooperation.

But that is hardly the only issue area that needs tending, scientists say.

In science-related agencies all over Washington, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Drug Administration, "scientists have been so patiently waiting for change. They've hung on and they've kept their heads down," said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Scientific Integrity Program at UCS.

In 2006, she led an effort by leading scientists that condemned political interference in science. In 2004, the UCS first issued a petition calling for the restoration of scientific integrity to federal policy making. Today, that document bears the names of more than 15,000 scientists, Grifo said.

On issues from A to Z, federal bureaucrats have undermined the scientific method and changed reports to make them politically or ideologically palatable, she said.

Earlier this year, a survey conducted by the UCS found that nearly two-thirds of the Environmental Protection Agency's scientists complained of recent political interference in their work.

Other examples of political interference, Grifo said, include amending the reports by biologists on endangered species and premature proclamations that the air quality at ground zero was safe.

To undo the damage that's been done, Obama's administration needs to promote transparency, protect government scientists and allow robust scientific input to guide federal decision-making, she said.

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