Is the government trying to kill us?

Contributed by
Jul 27, 2006

That may seem like an inflammatory headline. It probably won't after you read this.

A week or so ago I got an email from someone with the Union of Concerned Scientists -- a watchdog group of scientists who, among other things, keep track of science abuses -- saying they had released the results of a survey about science abuse at the Food and Drug Administration. Scientists at the FDA had responded to the survey, and many said that their opinions were ignored and even suppressed if they disagreed with results the FDA wanted.

Since this wasn't really my field, I didn't respond to the email. Obviously, I've changed my mind. With what went down at NASA over the George Deutsch affair, and with everything else we're seeing from this antiscience government, I'm realizing that any scientific suppression is fair game for me to air out here.

What also changed my mind was reading Michael Stebbins' article in Seed magazine about this: The FDA Is a Cauldron of Discontent. It's a short article, but damning in its implications. And the webpages documenting this at the UCS are even scarier. Here's a choice quotation:

"Scientific discourse is strongly discouraged when it may jeopardize an approval. . . . Whenever safety or efficacy concerns are raised on scientific grounds . . . these concerns are not taken seriously."

What has happened to us? The scariest thing about that quotation, to me, is that it wouldn't surprise me to hear it from a scientist in any number of government agencies. Scientific suppression is that widespread, and covers that wide a swath.

The FDA is directly responsible for approving drugs that we all take. Our lives depend on this! Stebbins, the author of the Seed magazine article, also writes a good blog called Sex, Drugs, and DNA, rang the alarm about this FDA suppression, and he complains:

Somehow every major news agency and most major newspapers missed the story. This is perplexing to me.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me. Even though the New York Times broke the story on NASA and George Deutsch, and it was extensively covered by science blogs, when I talked about this at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in St. Louis in February, most scientists there had not heard of Deutsch. I found that although the scientists were very concerned about the suppression of science by this Administration, specific examples outside their own field were unknown to them.

This concerns me a great deal. How do we fight something if we don't have the big picture?

One way is to educate yourself, of course. I read a lot of blogs-- my blogroll on the right hand side of this page has a list of some of the blogs that fight antiscience. They have links to others, and so on. It doesn't take very long to skim all those blogs, especially if you use an aggregator like Bloglines or any number of others. These blogs are not just people in their pajamas banging away on their keyboards; many of these are from respected scientists, science journalists, and people in the trenches who are fighting this war on science.

Hmmm... I almost wrote "encroaching storm" there in that last line, but that's not accurate: we're in the storm right now, and it's at full gale. Science is sacrificed constantly today for political reasons, and it must stop.

Mid-term elections are coming up in November. Investigate your Senator and Congressperson. Find out where they stand on these and other important issues, and on November 7, 2006, take a stand.

I will. Suppressing science is the very essence of antidemocracy-- it keeps the public in the dark about reality. Knowledge is our strength, and the ballot box is our weapon.

I'll leave you with this, from Thomas Jefferson:

"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."

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