Hard to believe, but they’re at it again.
After 2002, when a National Cancer Institute statement reporting no link between abortion and breast cancer was changed by the Bush administration to say evidence of a link was inconclusive; after the administration cut language on global warming from a 2003 report by the Environmental Protection Agency; after a government scientist was forbidden in 2001 and 2002 from discussing health hazards posed by airborne bacteria emanating from animal waste at large factory farms; after 60 scientists, 20 of them Nobel laureates, signed a statement in 2004 accusing the White House of manipulating and distorting science for political aims; after all that, Team Bush has once again been caught censoring science it dislikes.
I refer you to last week’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee produced documents demonstrating many dozens of instances in which the former chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality edited scientific reports on global warming. He cut definitive statements and replaced them with doubtful ones in order to portray climate change as something less than the settled science most experts consider it to be.
And get this: The guy changing the scientific reports is not a scientist. Philip Cooney is an oilman, previously employed by the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s lobbying arm. When he left the government in 2005, he went to work for ExxonMobil.
Can you say conflict of interest, boys and girls?
Democrats on the committee certainly could. Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont compared Mr. Cooney to the tobacco industry “scientists” who once assured the public that cigarettes were safe.
Republicans struck back, noting that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist who accuses the government of watering down the reports, is the recipient of a $250,000 award for environmental achievement from a foundation run by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Mr. Hansen, they said, is hardly without political motive.
The charge might stick except for all those prior instances of the administration changing science to fit politics. However one interprets Mr. Hansen’s motives, that pattern is still clear.
As the sins of Team Bush go, this isn’t the biggest. That dishonor goes either to bungling the war, mismanaging the peace or leaving New Orleans to drown. Yet this is, in some ways, the sin that tells you the most about the gang running this country and what they think of you and me.
Reasonable people, faced with facts leading to an unwanted conclusion, might seek to discredit said facts or find competing facts supporting a more palatable conclusion. But the Bush people simply ignore the facts, declaring reality to be whatever they say it is. And if that bespeaks a breathtaking gall, how much more gall, how much more utter contempt for people’s intelligence, is required to keep doing it after you’ve repeatedly been called on it?
I could give you many reasons this makes me angry. I could speak about the people’s right not to be propagandized by their own government. I would point out that this facts-optional approach shreds the government’s credibility.
But here’s what really burns my toast: These people think I’m stupid. And they think you’re stupid, too. What else can we conclude of a government that treats us with such brazen disdain?
They think we’re a bunch of doofuses, dimwits and dolts who will never notice that they’ve placed the interests of their cronies above our own.
For the record, I am not stupid, and I resent being treated as if I am. How about you?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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