Science is not as intimidating as it first appears. Anyone can do it. It is important, however, that when done by scientists it be properly vetted by amateurs. And it is important that ordinary people don’t have too much information since it will simply confuse them. Thanks to the actions of George Bush we will no longer have to fear an excessively informed public that may fall prey to the importunings of scientists who believe themselves able to educate the rest of us and, more daunting still, George Bush. That is because in a moment of unexpected enlightenment Mr. Bush has realized that one of the best ways to control what people think is to control the kinds of information to which people have access. Here is what Mr. Bush has done to restrict the scientific information available to would-be students towards the end of 2006.
He is closing all the libraries run by the Environmental Protection Agency and getting rid of pesky and superfluous scientific documents found in those libraries. The EPA has maintained 29 libraries around the United States for many years that contain information about human health, environmental issues, hazardous waste, pollution control, air quality and all manner of other things with which the EPA concerns itself.
In the 2007 library services budget request by the EPA, Mr. Bush cut $2 million out of the $2.5 million requested. In anticipation of Congressional approval the EPA has already closed its library in Washington D.C. to the public and has completely closed libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, Mo. In a letter to Congress protesting the cuts, EPA scientists observe that the $2 million cut is a small part of an $8 billion budget. That will not change Mr. Bush’s mind. Having little, if any knowledge himself and not having found that an impediment to becoming president, he sees no harm in making it harder for others to acquire that which he is lacking. Closing libraries is not the only way Mr. Bush hopes to keep citizens from being infected by knowledge. Scientists at the EPA, like its libraries, have been muzzled.
New regulations have been promulgated at the EPA that provide that when it comes to setting national air-quality standards, political appointees will have a greater role. Formerly independent outside scientists and professional scientists inside the EPA were responsible for setting safety standards for various pollutants. They made recommendations that were then sent to the political appointees who were the agency’s administrators. The recommendations were then forwarded to the White House. This was scientifically sound but it proved embarrassing to the administration when science ran up against the beliefs of George Bush and his political contributors. Under the new procedure this is less likely to happen since independent scientists will only be called on after political hacks and staff scientists have come up with what is now called “policy-relevant” science. The name suggests that policy and science should be given equal weight. The EPA is not alone in this most recent assault on knowledge-based decision-making.
New rules have been promulgated by the U.S. Geological Survey that will avoid having scientists making scientific pronouncements that go against Bush policy and beliefs. Under the new rules agency scientists at the USGS must submit all scientific papers and even minor reports or prepared talks to the USGS’s communications office. The new policy says that the USGS communications office and Mark Myers, the agency’s director, must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.” Mr. Myers and the office must be told prior to any submission for publication “of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.”
According to Patrick Leahy, the agency’s head of geology and its acting director until September, the new procedure will “harmonize” the review process. It will avoid such unfortunate occurrences as the time in 2002 when the USGS warned that oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would harm the Porcupine Caribou herd. Mr. Bush didn’t believe that. One week later the USGS had a new report saying the herd would be unaffected by the drilling.
Commenting on the new USGS rules, Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS said: “I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that’s a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship.” Mr. Estes is right. We all have someone looking over our shoulders. He’s called George Bush.