Sunday, November 14, 2004

U.S. Science Policy

Not aware yet that civilization has ended? Well we'll fix that right up, you obviously haven't yet read this week's Science

Bush Victory Leaves Scars--and Concerns About Funding
By Jeffrey Mervis

U.S. presidential science adviser John Marburger has some sharp words for researchers who publicly opposed President George W. Bush's reelection: Wrong message. Wrong audience. Wrong candidate.

Fresh from the election triumph by his boss and the Republican Party, Marburger warned last week in an interview with Science that criticism of the Administration's science policies during the campaign may be undermining public support for science. Offering a vigorous defense of the Administration's record, Marburger blamed critics for "looking at how the sausage is made" rather than at the product itself, which he characterized as a record windfall for science. Such partisan attacks, he suggested, may make it harder to prevent science from losing ground in the next 4 years given the demands of the war in Iraq, national security, and economic recovery.

Marburger's remarks came just 1 day after Bush described how he planned to "spend the political capital" from a 51% to 48% victory over Democrat Senator John Kerry and the increased Republican majority in both houses of Congress to reform Social Security, rewrite the tax code, and achieve other priorities. Science lobbyists are already worried about what will happen when Congress returns next week to finish the 2005 budget for the fiscal year that began 1 October. Their level of anxiety rises when they speculate about possible flat funding for key science agencies in the president's 2006 budget request this winter. And they may have to court new chairs of legislative panels that set policy and control budgets after a major reshuffling next year.
"If we're not careful, the scientific community can become estranged from the rest of society." said John Marburger, White House Science Adviser.

"Rightly or not, I think the science community is now perceived by this White House as the enemy, and that will make it harder to open doors," says physicist Michael Lubell, who handles government affairs for the American Physical Society. "It's one more factor in an increasingly complex situation," says David Moore of the Association of American Medical Colleges, who worries that fallout from the recent campaign could determine whether the Bush Administration "reaches out and engages [the science community] or goes in its own direction."

If Marburger's analysis is correct, it's not the Administration but its scientific critics who have gone their own way, losing touch with society's concerns in the process. "Science needs patrons, and our patron is society," said the 63-year-old applied physicist, a former university president and head of Brookhaven National Laboratory. "But if we're not careful, the scientific community can become estranged from the rest of society and what it cares about."

Marburger said his remarks were directed at the 48 Nobel laureates who publicly endorsed Kerry last summer and a group--Scientists and Engineers for Change--that spent $100,000 to stage about 30 events on university campuses around the nation at which researchers criticized Bush's policies. The get-out-the-vote effort came on the heels of a fierce fight between the White House and some scientists, led by the Boston-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), over allegations that the Administration has manipulated or suppressed science advice to advance its political agenda (Science, 9 April, p. 184). "I don't think that it was good for science to have done that," he says. "It was clear from the beginning because of the sweeping nature of the charges that the list of concerns were coming from the Democrats."


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