February 26, 2004
by Dennis T. Avery
A whole posse of Nobel Prize laureates and National Science Medal winners has accused the Bush White House of politicizing science. That's odd, since President Bush is proposing more peer reviews of the science going into federal reports and rule-making.
Peer review is the gold standard of science. Why would scientists be against that? In fact, given the recent history of U.S. government agencies ignoring science to pursue politically correct agendas, the science community ought to applaud more peer review.
I recall Carol Browner, newly appointed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Clinton, saying we should stop using pesticides, so we could stop arguing scientific details like parts per billion residues. She'd evidently forgotten that pesticides protect our food, kids and pets from insects and diseases. Fortunately, peer-reviewed science forced her to recognize that "the dose makes the poison" and parts per billion aren't much risk.
The current guidelines on trace contaminants in fish from the EPA's "environmentalists" are 40 times tighter than those set by the food scientists at the Food and Drug Administration to protect consumer safety. If the alarmists at EPA had to get their proposed regulations past a peer-reviewed science requirement at the Office of Management and Budget, it would save us a lot of aggravation.
William Schlesinger, the president of the Ecological Society of America, says he finds Bush's new peer-review requirement "alarming." It that because he has the EPA in his hip pocket?
Over at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they're trying to institute a new salmon-protection policy. Seventeen environmental groups say it's inadequate because it wouldn't breach four expensive federal power dams on the Snake River. The eco-groups claim the dams are killing off the Columbia Basin salmon. In the past, however, they've also claimed that logging, irrigated farming, and pollution were individually and collectively responsible for killing off the salmon.
Both salmon fishermen and marine researchers say the dominating salmon factor has been the natural 25-year cycle in Columbia River salmon runs. From 1977 to 2002, the Columbia salmon declined. Since 2002, the river has had record salmon runs, and the cycle says they're likely to thrive for the next 20 years regardless of U.S. salmon policy. How about some peer-reviewed examination of the cycle?
The big gripe of the "science petitioners," however is global warming. President Bush doesn't much believe in this most politically correct icon of the Left. The Union of Concerned Scientists is complaining that the Administration hasn't given enough weight to a flimsy 1998 "study" of global warming by Dr. Michael Mann as a newly minted PhD at the University of Virginia.
The Mann paper says there wasn't any Medieval Warming in the twelfth century even though the historical and scientific evidence is overwhelming -literally hundreds of peer-reviewed studies on glaciers, tree rings, ice cores and Japanese Medieval court record. Peer-reviewed critics now say the Mann paper left out key data and miscalculated its numbers. Al Gore frantically promoted it because it supported his fossil fuel scare.
The UCS is also unhappy that the Bush administration has paid attention to a review of the world's past climate warmings and coolings done by two highly qualified climate researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Harvard-Smithsonian paper says the earth is constantly warming and cooling due to such natural causes as variations in the sun's intensity. Peer reviewers have agreed.
Obviously, there's a real question whether the earth's current slow and erratic warming is man-made, or natural as were the known warm periods in Roman times and in the twelfth century.
The Bush White House says we should look at the hundreds of scientific research papers on the earth's variable climate history and such new data as readings from a new satellite that monitors-for the first time ever-the sun's varying brightness.
The Union of Concerned Scientists says, in effect, that we should only look at the alarmist science telling us to scrap our energy systems and live in mud huts.
I say bring on more peer review, in federal science and across the spectrum. Good science has nothing to lose from open debate, and the public has everything to gain. Let the press write about the real science debates instead of the activists' packaged scares.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.
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