White House Edits Climate Science

The CDC chief's report to Congress was whittled down, prompting a backlash.


Oct. 24, 2007— -- The White House Wednesday denied charges that it had "watered down" congressional testimony on the impact climate change is having on public health — testimony delivered by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As is customary, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Atlanta-based CDC, a government organization, submitted her report to the administration for review before giving testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Of the 14 original pages in her report, only six survived the White House editing process.

In her original report, Gerberding acknowledged that "scientific evidence supports the view that Earth's climate is changing."

Her report indicated that climate change is expected to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans. She goes on to say "the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed. The CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern," and "many Americans will likely experience difficult challenges."

Despite the serious implications of these statements, they were edited out of the final draft. Also deleted from her draft was any discussion of the actual health problems that could result from global warming, such as increased asthma, heat stress and food-borne illnesses. Instead, her testimony focused almost entirely on the CDC's preparation for dealing with health concerns related to climate change.

Will Callaway, legislative director for Physicians for Social Responsibility, said that by editing Gerberding's original report, the White House defeated its entire purpose.

"The reason that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held this hearing was because they wanted to expose more people to the implications that we're looking at relative to public health," Callaway said. "And the White House limited that information, both to the committee and to the public."

The White House defends its actions, saying the testimony was changed because evidence contained in the report was at odds with the recent International Panel on Climate Change.

In a Wednesday press conference, White House press secretary Dana Perino insisted the testimony was changed because of incongruities in its scientific data.

"As I understand it, in the draft, there was broad characterization about climate change science that didn't align with the IPCC," Perino said.

"We have experts and scientists across this administration that can take a look at the testimony and say, 'this is an error' or 'this doesn't make sense,' and so the decision on behalf of the CDC was to focus that testimony on public health."

However, Dr. Jonathan Patz, a lead author of the IPCC report, disputes this White House contention. "I do not find any grounds that anything should have been excluded by the administration, because it's scientifically accurate and was in line with IPCC. I think her testimony was rather compromised by excluding all the background rationale for why we should care, regarding the health effects of climate change."

As for Gerberding, she insisted Wednesday that the meaning behind her abbreviated testimony was misconstrued.

"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," she said. "People probably in business, and maybe in the press, don't really understand how written testimony occurs."

She went on to defend the authenticity of her testimony, saying, "I don't let people put words in my mouth, and I stand for science."

Still, those who have long watched the administration's statements on climate change say this is yet another example of politics trumping science.

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