The bias of science

Scientific American has written an editorial severely critical of the Bush administration’s “disdain [for] research that inconveniences it,” citing misrepresentation of findings, suppression of studies, deletion of data from government web pages, and playing gatekeeper on future studies by making it harder for scientists from “hostile nations” to publish in the US and by trying to give industry scientists more control over the process for determining EPA research. It brings together several criticisms from the past three years that amount to a disturbing step backwards in how our administration gets its facts.

I got word of the editorial from Declan McCullagh’s Politech list, where Declan introduced the piece with this rather odd disclaimer:

It is not unthinkable that scientists have political biases. In fact, it would be remarkable if many were not lifelong Democrats who may be tempted to be a bit more critical of a Republican’s science policies than they would, say, a Bill Clinton’s. Moreover, many scientists rely on government funding of domestic programs, which arguably increases faster under Democratic regimes.

That said, this editorial is pretty disturbing and ties enough threads together to be pretty convincing.

Is our nation so polarized now that anything praising or critical of our president is first assumed to be partisan rather than actually making a valid point? Like the rest of the country, scientists span the whole spectrum of personal political, cultural and religious biases. The common bias in our profession is the one at the heart of science itself: that the truth is worth knowing, even if it isn’t the truth we wish were so, and that society is better off knowing the truth and then having open and reasoned debate than basing our actions on blind dogma, unexamined assumptions and gut feel.

In other news, the US is losing its lead in scientific excellence.