Science in Transition

Over the past eight years, government censorship of science has ranged from silencing researchers to creating policies that interfered with the free exchange of scientific ideas.  Government censorship of science includes distortion and suppression of data, and threatens the public’s access to truthful and accurate information.

Though many examples of censorship and suppression have been revealed, it is likely in the coming months of transition that even more instances will come to light.  The following links are articles about some of these newly-revealed examples of how, through policy and practice, scientific information has been suppressed and distorted under the Bush Administration.

While I hope that the next Administration will be less likely to censor government scientists directly and to subvert information about key issues such as global warming, I do not believe that safeguards have been put in place to protect adequately the public’s access to accurate, scientific information.  It is likely, for example, that the military will continue to withhold data and medical studies, and that research and teaching about morally, ethically and/or religiously charged topics may be suppressed.  Additionally, the loosening of federal controls over the exchange and discovery of scientific data may lead to further restrictions on the state level.

For now, we’ll report on censorship as it comes to light and track efforts to change policy decisions like those reported below that undermine the integrity of science and the free-exchange of accurate information.

Recently reported examples of censorship by the government, by topic:

Endangered Species Act programs:

  • Agency officials in the Interior Department have interfered with scientific work to limit protections for species at risk of becoming extinct. Read a New York Times article here.
  • Changes were made to the Endangered Species Act that eliminated mandatory independent scientific review of the determination of threat to protected species and consideration of the effects of greenhouse gasses on protected species. Read a article here.

Approval of drugs and devices by the Food and Drug Administration:

  • Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration report that managers have required them to manipulate date in violation of the law. Read a New  York Times article here and a Wall Street Journal article here.

Censorship of medical studies by the Army:

  • The Army’s policy for reviewing medical reports/articles intended for publication may result in changes to or withholding of the reports. Read a Epinews article here.

Permitting moral objections to healthcare counseling and referrals:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Final Rule “Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law” which goes into effect on January 10, allows health care providers to refuse for moral or ethical reasons to provide referrals or counseling to patients who seek abortion or sterilization services.  Through this rule, the government obstructs patients’ access to medical information. Read the final rule here.  Read the proposed rule here.

Promotion of abstinence-only education by the Children, Family, and Youth Services Bureau:

  • Abstinence-only education promotes the withholding of accurate, scientific information about sexual health and sexuality from young adults.  Recently, the Bush Administration waived the annual application process for state abstinence-only education funds, offering states the opportunity to apply for five-year grants instead.  Read an article at RH Reality Check here.

NCAC Reports about censorship of science and access to scientific information:

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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2 Responses to Science in Transition

  1. Bob Manning says:

    The first paragraph of Katherine Rabb’s “Science in Transition” tells a true and extremely disturbing story:
    “Over the past eight years, government censorship of science has ranged from silencing researchers to creating policies that interfered with the free exchange of scientific ideas… distortion and suppression of data… threatens the public’s access to truthful and accurate information.”

    The reports of censorship are indicative of the breadth and depth of the problem. But, as we know, it is not a simple problem to resolve while ensuring that we do not impose laws that create new problems or leave loopholes that will continue to suppress truthful and accurate public information.

    I see two significant issues that may not be receiving the attention they deserve. The first is the distinction between freedom of scientific research and exchange of information, and the widespread, market-driven commercial application of that research, often in the form of powerful, little understood, science-based technologies.

    Examples can be found in the field of biotechnology, including genetic modification, particularly the creation of transgenic life forms, and the entire field of genomics. I believe that we must find ways to regulate some applications of scientific research without stifling the research itself. That is a daunting challenge, but one that I think must be confronted. I do not have solutions, just questions. I hope much more capable minds than my own will be able to find appropriate and effective answers.

    Another challenge: the need to educate the public, so powerful in our representative democracy. Every year new voters graduate from high school, and very few of have any real understanding of the science-based technologies that will drive much of what happens to them and all of us for the rest of our lives.

    A new administration offers hope; that we can all share and try to help realize.

  2. Thank you to Bob Manning for his thoughtful and interesting response. Personally, I agree that some regulation of science is important, and, in some instances, may even protect the free-exchange of ideas. At the very least, the administration and regulation of science can provide structures like bioethical guidelines. Administrative requirements might include, for example, open access to results of research funded by the government. For regulation to support rather than hinder scientific discovery, it must create the structures that promote scientific integrity and freedom, and access to information.

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