Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Politics of Science

Last September, I wrote a column entitled "12 Things The Next President Must Say." This was one of them:

I will trust scientists. Since I am not a scientist and have no training in the field, when the scientific community reaches a peer-reviewed consensus, I will accept it. I will not allow anti-scientific dogma and pseudo-science to be funded or supported in any way by my administration.
I'm happy to say that President Obama has not only said essentially that, but has followed through on the promise of a pro-science administration. He proved it Monday by signing an executive order overturning President Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

In doing so, he put science ahead of ideology, said he would restore scientific integrity to White House decision-making, and vowed that his science advisers would be hired based on their credentials, not on their politics. Hopefully, this means we won't see a repeat of the Bush policy that allowed low-level politically-appointed public affairs bureaucrats to tell top NASA climatologists what they can and can't say about climate change.

Yesterday on KIRO/Seattle, I talked this over with Dr. Art Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics. We discussed the impact of the change not just on stem cell research, but also on other failed policies like abstinence-only sex education.

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Of course, the presidential order doesn't mean that politics and science no longer clash. TPM's Elana Schor reports that several GOP senators have put an anonymous hold on at least two of Obama's science adviser designees -- and she's trying to figure out who the culprits are:
We're on the hunt for the mystery senator (or senators) holding up approval of John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, President Obama's nominees to become chief White House science adviser and head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To bring folks up to speed, it appeared initially that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was the sole lawmaker standing in the nominees' way, thanks to an unrelated dispute with Democratic leaders over the Cuban trade embargo. But that obstacle is no longer operative, leaving the situation murky as Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) references multiple holds on the nominees.

Yesterday we ruled out two GOP suspects, Sens. David Vitter (LA) and Mel Martinez (FL). Today we can strike two more likely suspects from the list: Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Barrasso (R-WY) both strongly oppose Holdren's pro-regulation stance on climate change, but both told me they're not behind the holds.

Inhofe couldn't confirm that the holds weren't coming from his environment committee, but he said flat out: "It's not me, though."