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I just happened to find a very interesting website and report called Politics and Science in the Bush Administration, prepared for the minority office of the House Committee on Government Reform. Here's part of the introduction:

The report Politics and Science in the Bush Administration (.pdf) finds numerous instances where the Administration has manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings. Beneficiaries include important supporters of the President, including social conservatives and powerful industry groups.

The report then goes on to list, in great detail, abuse of political influence to alter, hide, or stop scientific research in twenty areas from Abstinence-Only Education and Agricultural Pollution to Workplace Safety and Yellowstone National Park. It's very depressing reading for anybody who cares about science and the integrity of the knowledge-seeking and -disseminating processes. It appears that scientific results are being driven by dogma, instead of policy being driven by scientific knowledge.

Question for debate: is this manipulation of science acceptable to you? More broadly, what should the government's role be in scientific research, and what can be done to maintain scientific integrity when the government is involved in science?
Victoria Silverwolf
Excellent topic.

The answer to your first question should be obvious, I hope. I trust that nobody, of any political leaning, would tolerate the manipulation of scientific research for political purposes.

What should the role of government be in scientific research? Well, that's a little tricky to say. I can certainly understand if someone were to suggest that government should have no role in science at all. Such would be the viewpoint, perhaps, of the strict Constitutionalist and/or Libertarian. However, I would maintain that basic scientific research is of such vital importance to humanity that government should play a part. To put it bluntly, it's an important source of money. (Other sources of funding are also important, of course.)

How should this money be distributed? With great care. It's important (and difficult) to avoid funding pseudoscience without taking the risk of failing to support important research outside the beaten path. Is the proposed research plausible? Has similar research already been done? And so on. Clearly, the government must make use of scientific experts to debate these questions. Inevitably, this is going to create bureaucracy, with all its many problems. I would hope that people with a real knowledge of science would be less likely than others to become bogged down in meaningless red tape, but one has to expect a certain amount of waste. Constant review of the process by other scientific experts might help.

(One question that should rarely, if ever, be asked is whether the proposed research is "useful." The importance of basic research cannot be emphasized enough.)

The government should take the same stance that the scientific community takes with regard to judging the results of such research. Open publication and peer review are they keys. The great power of science lies in its self-correcting mechanisms, and this must be used to the utmost.
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