Politicizing Science

Politicizing Science

The Alchemy of Policymaking

Editor: Michael Gough
ISBN: 978-0-8179-3932-8
Publication Date: 6/30/2003
Pages: 313

Politics and science make strange bedfellows. In politics, perceptions are reality and facts are negotiable. The competing interests, conflicting objectives, and trade-offs of political negotiations often lend themselves to bending the truth and selectively interpreting facts to shape outcomes. In science, facts are reality. This collection examines the conflicts that arise when politics and science converge.

In Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking, eleven leading scientists describe the politicization—through misapplication or overemphasis of results that favor a political decision or through outright manipulation—of scientific findings and deliberations to advance policy agendas. They show how the consequences of politicization are inflicted on the public, including the diversion of money and research efforts from worthwhile scientific endeavors, the costs of unnecessary regulations, and the losses of useful products—while increased power and prestige flow to those who manipulate science.

The authors of three essays describe government diversions of scientific research and the interpretation of scientific findings away from where the evidence leads and toward directions deemed politically desirable. Three more contributions analyze the expensive and extensive efforts devoted to altering images of risk in order to establish linkages in the public's mind between deleterious human health effects and various areas of scientific research. Two essays examine the workings and results of consensus advisory panels and conclude that their recommendations are often based on far-from-certain science and driven by social and political dynamics that substitute group cohesion in favor of independent, critical thinking. Authors of two essays describe the unfortunate results of application of the "precautionary principle," which generally requires proof of no risk before a new product is introduced or an existing product can be continued in use. A concluding essay describes the personal costs of opposing the politicization of science.


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Michael Gough

Michael Gough, a consultant, earned a B.A. at Grinnell College, and a Ph.D. (biology) at Brown University. After a decade-long academic career at the University of Michigan, Baylor Medical School, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and two years at the National Institutes of Health, he joined the congressional Office of Technology Assessment in 1977. At OTA, he began work in health risk assessment and environmental health policy and directed and contributed to OTA reports on subjects ranging from environmental causes of cancer, occupational health and safety, and Love Canal through corn genetics and biotechnology to oil shale mining. In the early 1980’s, Gough directed OTA’s congressionally mandated oversight of Executive Branch studies of cancer in veterans of atom bomb tests and of the health of Vietnam veterans. He chaired a Department of Veterans Affairs advisory committee (1987–90) about the possible health effects of herbicides used in Vietnam and the Department of Health and Human Services committee (1990–95) that advises the United States Air Force study of the health of Air Force personnel who sprayed Agent Orange in Vietnam. In September 2000, he accepted reappointment to the DHHS committee. In 1995, he served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board committee that evaluated EPA’s dioxin reassessment. During his academic career, he was a Fulbright Lecturer in Peru and India, and published two dozen papers in molecular biology, genetics, and microbiology. He is the author of Dioxin, Agent Orange (Plenum, 1986), coeditor, with T. S. Glickman, of Readings in Risk (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), and coauthor, with Steven J. Milloy, of Silencing Science (Cato, 1999). He is the author of more than forty papers about environmental and occupational health as well as numerous newspaper op-eds. He has testified about three dozen times before Congress. He is a fellow of the Society for Risk Analysis and was president of the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (2001–2002).

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     John Raisian and William O’Keefe






Introduction: Science, Risks, and Politics
     Michael Gough



Harmful Politicization of Science
     William Happer



The Corrosive Effects of Politicized
Regulation of Science and Technology
     Henry I. Miller



Science and Public Policy
     Joseph P. Martino



Endocrine Disruptors
     Stephen Safe



Cancer Prevention and the
Environmental Chemical Distraction
     Bruce Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold



Nuclear Power
     Bernard L. Cohen



Science or Political Science? An Assessment of
the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential
Consequences of Climate Variability and Change

     Patrick J. Michaels



The Political Science of Agent Orange and Dioxin
     Michael Gough



Science and Politics in the Regulation of
Chemicals in Sweden
     Robert Nilsson



How Precaution Kills: The Demise of DDT
and the Resurgence of Malaria
     Roger Bate



The Revelle-Gore Story:
Attempted Political Suppression of Science
     S. Fred Singer





The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, founded at Stanford University in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the thirty-first president of the United States, is an interdisciplinary research center for advanced study on domestic and international affairs. The views expressed in its publications are entirely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff, officers, or Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution.


The George C. Marshall Institute is a nonprofit institution directed by senior scientists of international renown dedicated to providing rigorous, unbiased technical analyses of scientific issues that impact public policy.


Hoover Institution Press Publication No. 517

Copyright © 2003 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.

First printing 2003
09 08 07 06 05 04 03     9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Manufactured in the United States of America

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Politicizing science : the alchemy of policymaking / edited by Michael Gough.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8179-3932-6 (alk. paper)

1. Science—Political aspects. I. Gough, Michael, 1939– Q175.5.A42 2003

338.973'06—dc21     2003041732


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