Abstinence-only: the Bush administration’s approach to science

earth_roast.bmpIt is not science that the Bush administration has been advertising as the target of their much touted abstinence-only programs over the last seven years. Not publicly at least.  But it may as well have been.  It turns out that objective evidence-based decision making is in fact what they’ve been abstaining from.

For over a year, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating claims of political interference by the Bush administration in science and reporting by federal government scientists and agencies on climate change. The Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, has now issued its report, “Political Interference with Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration” (37 pp. PDF), which is available here.

It makes for sobering, even infuriating, reading.  As reported by The Christian Science Monitor,the report finds, for example, that the White House:

•Was “particularly active in stifling [scientists’] discussions of the link between increased hurricane intensity and global warming.”

•Sought “to minimize the significance and certainty of climate change by extensively editing government climate change reports.”

•Edited “EPA legal opinions as well as newspaper opinion articles on climate change.”

The White House, needless to say, is painting all this as a political smear job.  But another opinion comes from someone with the experience to judge such claims.  Rick Piltz is currently director of the climate-science watch program at the watchdog organization “Government Accountability Project”. According to The Christian Science Monitor,

“Mr. Piltz . . . served under the Bush administration until spring 2005, when he resigned and exposed White House editing of the national climate assessment. As a senior staffer with the US Climate Change Science Program, he also served under President Clinton and saw marked contrasts between the two. ‘It’s true that every administration has its own policy, and there’s always a tendency to shade your communications,’ Piltz says. ‘But the difference here is that the White House science office under previous administrations was not at war with the mainstream science community.'”

save_us_abstinence_man.gifAs most people who occasionally read even so light and fluffy a medium as USA Today will know, the hostility to science that guides this administration’s approach to climate change is not a fluke, but a central modus operandi in their approach to what might euphemistically be called the people’s business.  Representative Waxman previously issued a strikingly similar report documenting the egregious scientific inaccuracy and thinly veiled ideological motivation of the administration’s abstinence-only approach to reproductive education.  That report, “The content of federally funded abstinence-only education programs“, can be found here.

I am sympathetic to the conservative desire to instill good values, and I commend kids who pledge abstinence.  But let’s not lie to them about how reproduction and contraceptives and human behavior work to convince them it’s a good idea.  Deceipt (or bearing false witness, if you prefer that language) is not an effective basis for changing people’s behavior. And  it is deeply troubling when it becomes the basis of official policy.  As Waxman himself noted, “I don’t think we ought to lie to our children about science. Something is seriously wrong when federal tax dollars are being used to mislead kids about basic health facts.”

It’s at least a relief to know that, only thirteen months from now, most of this crowd will begin abstaining from service in the Executive branch of this country. 


About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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2 Responses to Abstinence-only: the Bush administration’s approach to science

  1. FishGuyDave says:

    If only that were true! How many Gail Nortons, Dick Cheneys, Donald Runsfelds, and Admiral John Poindexters have we seen in the Republican party time and time again in different administrations? It’s like a temporal version of the whack-a-mole game.

  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    Alas, Dave, you’re right. Well, at least we can feel pretty confident that the main guy will be gone. After the GOP’s nose dive in public opinion over the last few years, I can’t imagine that even a new Republican administration would touch him with (to quote the Grinch) a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

    P.S. Not sure why your comment went initially into the moderation queue.  Same thing keeps happening to Mr. R . . .