Objective scientific process should not be subverted to serve political or ideological goals. In recent years, however, substantial evidence has surfaced indicating that policymakers within the federal government are attempting to suppress objective scientific evidence, to distort scientific findings and to appoint or place individuals in a variety of positions in order to promote a political and ideological agenda. Such concerns have been raised in various contexts, perhaps most notably in areas affecting our nation’s environment and public health. These concerns have been documented in the newspapers, congressional hearings and reports from respected scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Union of Concerned Scientists. These investigations document several ways in which science is being misused: through efforts to suppress or distort scientific findings, through the appointment of scientists and researchers who meet certain political and ideological rather than professional criteria, through funding politically self-serving scientific studies and through the intimidation of scientists. These alarming efforts undermine the integrity of the scientific process.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently conducted an investigation into allegations of the politicization of science within the federal government, which found evidence suggesting a systematic effort to suppress and distort scientific findings in order to promote certain political ends. For example, according to the UCS, under pressure from the White House, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) replaced a web site fact sheet containing information on proper condom use, the efficacy of different types of condoms, and a study showing that condom education does not lead to an increase in sexual activity with information on condom failure and the value of abstinence. Additionally, information suggesting a link between breast cancer and abortion was posted on the National Cancer Institute’s web site against the objection of CDC staff who denounced such information as long-refuted and unsubstantiated.
The same report indicates that the Bush administration delayed for nine months an EPA report (eventually leaked) that indicated that 8 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 49 have blood mercury levels that could lead to reduced I.Q. and motor skills in their offspring. When new rules of mercury emissions were finally released by the EPA, at least 12 paragraphs were transferred, sometimes verbatim, from a legal document prepared by industry attorneys.
Additionally, several reports commissioned by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA)5 have documented numerous distortions of science by the executive branch, including the widespread incorporation of erroneous, politicized information in federally funded abstinence-only curricula. Some of these misrepresentations include inaccurate statistics about contraception, a false linkage between abortions and breast cancer, the labeling of a 43-day-old fetus as a “thinking person” and the notion that “sweat and tears” can transmit HIV. There is also growing use of political litmus tests for scientific appointees, who, reports indicate, have been asked about their political affiliations rather than their professional credentials. For example, the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine released a report in the Winter of 2005 entitled “Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments.” Among their recommendations was that “it is no more appropriate to ask S&T [Science and Technology] experts to provide irrelevant information—such as voting record, political-party affiliation or position on particular policies —than to ask them other personal and immaterial information, such as hair color or height.”
Furthermore, the scientific theory of evolution is being challenged in school districts and the courts by proponents of “intelligent design.” According to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that is a leading intelligent design (ID) proponent, “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”
ID proponents are increasingly, and with success, seeking to use public schools to advance this concept, suggesting that “intelligent design” holds scientific merit equal to the theory of evolution. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community, which supports theories that are testable by experiment or observation, oppose treating ID, which is neither, as scientific theory. A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences states, “Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science.” Public officials have supported public schools teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in science curricula.
There are several legislative proposals seeking to prevent the obstruction of federally funded scientific research, censoring findings, or disseminating scientific information known to be false or misleading. Politicizing science is antithetical to Jewish values. Maimonides notes, “The spiritual perfection of a person consists in becoming an intelligent being—one who knows all that he [or she] is capable of learning. And such knowledge is obtained not by virtue or piety, but through inquiry and research.” The scientific process requires the generation and analysis of objective data. The insertion of politics and ideology into science represents the subversion of that process.
THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
- Demand that public officials and appointees to governmental and advisory bodies respect the integrity of the scientific process and not manipulate scientific data and evidence to achieve political or ideological objectives;
- Call upon all levels of government to ensure that the appointment of scientists to government positions and advisory boards be made on the basis of scientific experience, expertise and accomplishment;
- Demand that federal funding of scientific research result from a merit-based peer review of proposals, relying strictly upon scientifically objective criteria;
- Demand that government-employed scientists and scientists conducting research under government sponsorship be free from threats and intimidation that might compromise their scientific integrity;
- Support appropriate measures to ensure that all of the above principles are adhered to and valued; and
- Oppose government efforts and policies that seek to redefine science or the scientific method to incorporate religious, theological or other theories, including “intelligent design” and creationism, that are neither testable by experiment nor observation.