- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

The uneasy liaison of politics and science isoldhat.Astronomer-physicist Galileo, having made such important discoveries as sun spots (1610), was tried for heresy in the Inquisition when Rome disputed his Copernican theory that the sun revolved around the Earth rather than vice versa. Found guilty, Galileo had to recant in public. Or else.

The editor of this volume, Michael Gough, is the author of some 40 peer-reviewed papers on health and the environment and has testified some 36 times before Congress. Along with the other scientists who have contributed to the book, Mr. Gough sets out to prove that the troubled relationship continues today, and that although political-scientific cooperation has led to great steps forward in knowledge, it has sometimes elevated politics at the expense of “strong scientific underpinnings.”

Mr. Gough links this imbalance of power to the fact that universities and other research institutes are forever hunting for government funding. Meanwhile, agencies like the National Institutes of Health (currently budgeted at $27.3 billion) are anxious to “get out in front of the problem” — whatever the problem of the hour may be.

This precautionary principle can warp scientific judgement in assessing risks. Contributor Roger Bate, director of the International Policy Network in Washington, explains how overprecaution can kill.

Mr. Bate notes how Rachel Carson’s famous book “Silent Spring” (1962) indicted DDT as the cause of ebbing bird populations in the United States. The Greens agitated. So, the United States and many other nations, rich and poor, phased out use of DDT. Upshot: Malaria rates shot up anew, and the disease has returned as a major killer in the developing world.

Another contributor, S. Fred Singer, relates how in 1991 he and two other scientists, Chauncey Starr and Roger Revelle, published a paper which held that the evidence for global warming due to an atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide was inconclusive. The three scientists called for no immediate policy action.

Their call apparently upset Sen. and later Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Gore wanted fast action. So, the vice president asked Ted Koppel, the ABC news anchor, to check Mr. Singer’s funding sources, including those in industry. To his credit, Mr. Koppel chastised Mr. Gore “for trying to use the media to discredit skeptical scientists.” Here, Mr. Singer nails Mr. Gore for showing how “a powerful politician can attack his enemies.”

Special interests are the focus of the chapter by Dr. Henry I. Miller, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution and ex-official of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Miller argues that many special interests, including those of the politicians and bureaucrats themselves, parade as “the public interest” to push certain technologies.

In his essay, Dr. Miller recalls how the touted FDA Commissioner David Kessler took up a high-profile cause that would get him on the evening news. Well, what was it — defective heart valves, a tainted vaccine? Not so. It was Citrus Hill orange juice, labeled “fresh,” though made from orange concentrate. As Mr. Kessler vented on the CBS program “60 Minutes”: “My grandmother could have told you, I mean, it wasn’t fresh.” Dr. Miller wonders why the FDA didn’t have anything more important to worry about.

Princeton physicist William Happer was appointed by Bush I as director of energy research at the Department of Energy in 1991, with a basic research budget of some $3 billion. He soon felt pressure from global warming groups forecasting cruel climate changes unless drastic limitations in carbon dioxide emissions were imposed.

Such limits are in fact stipulated in the Kyoto treaty, which Mr. Happer sees as “a foolish and damaging thing.” The treaty not only exempts vast CO2-emitting nations such as China and India from compliance, but also ignores documented geological history cited by Mr. Happer. From about 300 million years ago to 30 million years ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were some five times higher than they are now; yet this was a period of flourishing life on Earth.

Mr. Gough and his 11 colleagues deserve credit for reminding us that politics and science indeed make strange bedfellows. The Greek mathematician Euclid (c. 300 B.C.) had a point: quod erat demonstrandum (Q.E.D.), “which must be proved,” as this welcome book does.

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation and a contributingeditortothe Foundation for Economic Education’s Ideas on Liberty.

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