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Attacks On Science 2008 - A Very Partial List

The assault on science and scientific thinking under the Bush administration continued unabated in 2008 and was almost entirely unmentioned in the press Although the Bush Administration ceased openly denying the science behind global warming, not a single regulation addressing the pressing issues of greenhouse gases or other related topics was initiated. No action was taken on stem cell research. Issues related to public health and the environment were denied with further evidence of the muzzling of government scientists in agencies such as NASA, the EPA, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Equally chilling are the increasing efforts to roll back women’s reproductive rights and to force religion into science classrooms. Creationist bills were advanced in state legislatures across the country - and passed and signed into law in Louisiana (see below).

March 2008: The EPA lowered the ozone standard from 84 to 75 parts per billion – ignoring its own advisory board’s recommendation of a more stringent 60 to 70 parts per billion to protect human health. In announcing the standard, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson noted he is prohibited from considering the economic consequences of the standard and urged Congress to change the law so the costs of protecting public health would be considered when establishing future standards. Under Johnson’s proposals, if the cost were high, the EPA administrator would not be legally required to recommend regulation or protective standards – “economic consequences” would allow the EPA to ignore science.

April 18, 2008: The Ben Stein movie/documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" was released. The movie is a crude attack on evolution, insidiously framed as defending the “Freedom of Speech” of individuals who dare to go up against the scientific establishment. It openly poses religion in opposition to evolution, and panders to the prejudices of its intended Christian fundamentalist audience. It poses the little guy vs. “Big Science”; “faith-based common sense” vs. the complexities of reality; and Americanism and freedom of speech vs. the way science has really developed and what science has learned about the world.

June 25, 2008
: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed the Science Education Act. This new onslaught of creationism/intelligent design is modeled on a template from the Discovery Institute, the nerve center of the intelligent design version of creationism, and uses the misleading argument that scientists and teachers who raise so-called “scientific” criticisms of evolution are intimidated, unfairly denied tenure, and otherwise retaliated against. There are no scientifically credible criticisms of the theory of evolution (although specifics are debated) and alternative views such as creationism and intelligent design are not science but are in fact religious notions that have no place in a science curriculum – as the courts have repeatedly stated.

July 11, 2008: Despite four major international conferences on climate change, the Bush Administration failed to take any substantial action to address the issue. For example, to comply with a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the Bush administration was required to make a determination regarding the impact of global warming and to regulate greenhouse gases should the health risks warrant regulation. However, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced that further public comment will be sought regarding the impact of global warming on human health and the environment. This means the public comment period extends well into 2009, assuring that the Bush administration never issues any regulation limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

August 29, 2008: Republican presidential candidate John McCain announced his selection of Sarah Palin, first-term governor of Alaska, as his running mate. Governor Palin declared in a 2006 political debate that both creationism and evolution should be taught in public schools and repeatedly indicated during the 2008 campaign that she did not believe that mankind’s actions are responsible for global warming. In a policy speech delivered October 24, 2008 in Pittsburg, Palin mocked grants provided for basic research with fruit flies as special interest and pork barrel spending. During the campaign she exhibited an horrific combination of ignorance and arrogance, promoting anti-scientific attitudes at every turn.

August 29, 2008: After over 7 years of doing nothing to protect worker health (one regulation limiting exposure to a toxin, implemented under court order), the Bush Administration published regulations ignoring worker health, adding an additional layer of review before protective measures can be implemented, and ignored their own scientists and legal advisors in the process. In this instance the Department of Labor implemented regulations favorable to industry, at the expense of workers, without public comment, and put them in place before the conclusion of the Bush Administration.

October 2008: Both major party candidates responded to 14 questions about science posed by Science Debate 2008, an initiative launched in December 2007 to raise the profile of science in the national elections. Science Debate 2008 was supported by almost every major scientific organization, presidents of major universities, numerous Nobel laureates, and members of the National Academy of Sciences. Despite the October responses, candidates from both parties largely ignored science issues throughout the lengthy primary season, and Obama and McCain never agreed to participate in a forum on the critical issues raised by the initiative and its supporters.

November 24, 2008
: Public comment closed on US Department of Agriculture’s proposed revision of regulations of genetically modified crops; this applies to both food crops and pharma crops – those crops modified to produce pharmaceutical substances. The regulations will allow biotech firms to determine which crops are regulated by the USDA and include a provision for a “low level presence” policy, essentially ensuring that genetically modified pharma crops will intermingle with conventional and organic food crops. This completely ignores calls from the Union of Concerned Scientists and others to ban outdoor, essentially uncontrolled, cultivation of pharma crops. In spite of recent evidence from Oaxaca, Mexico that genetically modified corn is rapidly contaminating wild and traditional crops, the Bush administration has indicated its intention to push the regulations through prior to leaving office.

December 2008: As part of the concerted effort by the Bush administration in its final hours, the Interior Department readied a regulation granting a "life of mine" environmental permit to Peabody Mining for the Kayenta coal mine. The permit now includes the Black Mesa mine, closed since 2005, meaning that it could easily be re-opened without completion of additional environmental impact studies. The Navajo and Hopi tribes, who are concerned about the depletion of groundwater, are opposing the change. The Bureau of Land Management also auctioned off drilling leases in over 100,000 acres in Utah, ignoring federal law that requires review of the impact on natural and cultural resources prior to such sales.

December 12, 2008: The Endangered Species Act has been under nearly continuous attack by the Bush Administration. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced regulations eliminating independent scientific review of projects by the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service. The Department of Transportation, Department of Defense or public entities with large-scale projects on federal land will determine the likely impact on endangered species themselves. This eliminates input from scientists who are knowledgeable of, and committed to, the protection of endangered species and creates conflict of interest in the review process.

The Bush Administration has attempted to block the implementation of the Endangered Species Act at every turn,. They have delayied regulation of commercial shipping speed in the migration route of the endangered right whale (and protecting the right whale in a much smaller geographic area than recommended by marine mammal experts), and listed the polar bear only as a threatened species – rather than endangered -- after explicitly allowing natural gas and oil exploration to continue within the bear’s habitat. On August 12, 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that habitat set aside for the spotted owl in Oregon, Washington and California would be reduced by 23%, despite evidence that the owl population is declining at a rate of 4% per year.

December 18, 2008
: HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced the so-called “Right of Conscience Rule” that requires entities receiving government funding (that’s 584,000 institutions, including 89% of all hospitals) to certify that workers need not provide medical care, or information regarding treatment options, they find objectionable on moral grounds. The regulation broadly defines health care workers “involved in procedures” to include anyone from doctors and pharmacists to others such as those who clean surgical implements. Health care workers are allowed to impose their morals on patients seeking treatment for sexually transmitted disease, infertility or contraception, abortion, life-ending drugs (available to terminally ill patients in states with “Right to Die” statutes), and any other procedure, drug, or treatment the health care worker finds objectionable, despite the legal, safe, and scientifically-tested status of all such procedures. The regulations include explicit provisions that health care workers are not required to mention to patients the existence of safe, legal, and scientifically-tested procedures. Rape victims may be denied access to, and even information regarding, the morning after pill. The regulations are widely recognized as an attack on women’s reproductive health and most specifically the right to abortion and contraception, and are an attack on scientific standards in medicine.

December 2008
: President-elect Obama picked Christian fundamentalist minister Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Presidential inauguration. Warren believes that the world is only 6,000 years old, and that species did not evolve. He is an active advocate of teaching evolution as only one possible explanation for how the diversity and complexity of life came to be, and for opening the door to teaching creationism in public schools.

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