Group says that Bush undermines science for politics

WASHINGTON — A scientists' group yesterday leveled new charges that the Bush administration has undermined the integrity of science in policy-making, including asking proposed appointees to science advisory panels what they thought of President Bush and whether they voted for him.

The report by the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., is a follow-up to a similar report by the scientists' group in February. That one was dismissed by White House science adviser John Marburger III, who said Bush supports science and wants the highest scientific standards.

In a statement yesterday, Marburger said the new report "resembles previous releases in making sweeping generalizations based on a patchwork of disjointed facts and accusations that reach conclusions that are wrong and misleading."

During a news briefing on the report, Dr. Gerald Keusch, former director of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health, said his nominees for a science advisory panel had been promptly agreed to by the Clinton administration. Under Bush, he said, superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) balked at many of his nominees.

Keusch said he had been told by administration officials that Torsten Wiesel, a Nobel laureate in medicine, had been disapproved because "he had signed too many full-page letters in The New York Times critical of President Bush."

William Pierce, an HHS spokesman, said appointments to the Fogarty center advisory panel are made by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and names sent forward by Keusch were recommendations only. "We are forced to make choices and decisions," Pierce said. He said he had been unable to verify the comment about Wiesel.

Dr. Janet Rowley, a geneticist and current member of the President's Council on Bioethics, said she was asked before her appointment whether she had voted for Bush and supported his policies. She said she responded that such questions had no bearing on her competence to give scientific advice.

The report cites some cases already reported in the press, including a charge that the Interior Department disregarded extensive federal an state studies in an environmental impact statement on mountaintop-removal mining, a process in which mountain ridges are removed to expose coal seams. The report says the department proposed no alternatives to soften the worst environmental consequences of the mining process.

"We were flabbergasted and outraged," said a high-ranking U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientist quoted in the report.

Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for the Department of Interior, said the report by the scientists' group contains "recycled charges that had no merit the first time around."

The February report by the Union of Concerned Scientists accompanied release of a statement signed by 62 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates and former senior advisers to administrations of both parties, that called for "restoring scientific integrity in policy making." Kurt Gottfried, a physicist who is chairman of the board of the scientists group, said more than 4,000 scientists now have signed the statement, including 48 Nobel laureates.