In November, President Bush gave physicist Richard Garwin a medal for his ‘‘valuable scientific advice on important questions of national security.’’ Three months later, Garwin signed a statement condemning the Bush administration for misusing, suppressing and distorting scientific advice.
So far more than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel prize winners, have put their names to the declaration.
The scientists’ statement represents a new development in the uneasy relationship between science and politics. In the past, individual scientists and science organizations have occasionally piped up to oppose specific federal policies such as Ronald Reagan’s ‘‘Star Wars’’ missile defense plan. But this is the first time that a broad spectrum of the scientific community has expressed opposition to a president’s overall science policy.
Scientists’ feud with the Bush administration, building for almost four years, has intensified this year. The White House has sacked prominent scientists from presidential advisory committees, science advocacy groups have released lengthy catalogs of alleged scientific abuses by the administration and both sides have traded accusations at meetings and in journals.
‘‘People are shocked by what’s going on,’’ said Kurt Gottfried, a Cornell University physicist and chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has been in the vanguard of the campaign against the administration’s science policy.
Administration officials dismiss the scientists’ concerns as misguided and accuse them of playing politics. ‘‘I don’t like to see science exploited for political purposes, and I think that’s happening here,’’ presidential science adviser John Marburger said. Some scientists critical of the Bush administration make no secret that they would like to see the president defeated; four dozen Nobel laureates have endorsed John Kerry for president.
The federal government relies on hundreds of scientific and technical panels for advice on a wide range of policy issues. Incorporating scientific advice into policymaking involves an implied contract of trust between government officials and scientists.
Scientists contend the Bush administration has violated the bargain by manipulating scientific information to suit political purposes and by applying a political litmus test to membership on scientific advisory committees.
We really don’t need Lysenkoism in this country. (There you go, googling…)