April 14, 2004

Gottfried Speaks on U.S. Use of Science

Print More

Last night, Prof. Emeritus Kurt Gottfried, physics, spoke in the Founder’s room of Anabel Taylor Hall about the mishandling of science by the Bush administration. An audience of about 30 people came to hear about the allegations that the administration has interfered with or ignored scientific reports during the last three years.

“The administration has often, not always, but often, manipulated and distorted the manner and substance in which science enters into its decision-making so as to confirm the decisions that presumably they had in mind all along,” said Gottfried as he began his talk.

The talk was attended mostly by students as well as a couple members of the faculty.

Gottfried was introduced by Andrew Noble grad, who is a member of Cornell’s Bush Must Go organization. The group organized the presentation, entitled “Science Policy in the Bush Administration,” in response to a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists about the allegations. Noble invited Gottfried based on his reputation.

“As a physics grad, I consider [Gottfried] quite a role model, combining academics with a civic career,” he said.

The UCS report, “Scientific Integrity in Policy-Making,” documents a number of cases where the administration has misused science. It was co-authored by Gottfried who is currently the Chair of the UCS and has been a member since the organization was founded in 1969.

“There is a well-established pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees across numerous federal agencies. These actions have consequences for human health, public safety, and community well-being,” the report states.

“We’re not talking about funding by the administration … we also are not saying that the administration is opposed to science,” Gottfried explained. “What we’re trying to say is that there are two areas where the administration has done what we are alleging, and that is where important corporate constituencies … do not want regulations created or enforced, especially … the electric and power sectors. The other is anything to do with sex or human reproduction.”

Gottfried then went on to give several examples he and other UCS members investigated for their report. One case involved a panel created by the Bush administration to report on climate change that included a number of renowned experts and skeptics in the area.

“This panel came out with a unanimous report which basically agreed with the international panel’s conclusion [that climate change is significant],” Gottfried said.

He explained that the Bush administration disagrees with this view, “So they got some very good lawyers who always write things in such a way that every sentence is perfectly correct, but when they put the whole paragraph together, it makes no sense.”

In addition, Gottfried talked about how the Bush administration has “systematically” exaggerated the uncertainties of the climate change report by overemphasizing the positive potential and ignoring the negative side. He also said that the Bush administration has abolished some of the government’s science advisory committees. He mentioned one committee of physicists in particular.

“It only met for a year, after which it was no longer convened, and then it was abolished, although the enabling act makes it permanent,” Gottfried said. “It just came out the other day through a Freedom of Information Act disclosure, that this committee had actually produced a report that contradicts government policy on nuclear testing and new nuclear weapons.”

After Gottfried had detailed a number of instances of the Bush administration mishandling scientific information, he opened the floor to general discussion. The audience asked about specific examples and the responsibilities of scientists in such an administration. Gottfried explained that it was difficult to come up with simple solutions when the situation can be so complicated. “It’s a timely topic,” said Prof. Michael Lynch, science and technology studies, explaining why he came to the talk, “I wanted to see what it was about.”

Archived article by Sarah Colby
Sun Staff Writer