Saturday, September 30, 2006

Scientists Form Group to Support Science-Friendly Candidates

From The New York Times, Sept 28

Several prominent scientists said yesterday that they had formed an organization dedicated to electing politicians “who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy.”

Organizers of the group, Scientists and Engineers for America, said it would be nonpartisan, but in interviews several said Bush administration science policies had led them to act. The issues they cited included the administration’s position on climate change, its restrictions on stem cell research and delays in authorizing the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception.

In a statement posted on its Web site (www.sefora.org), the group said scientists and engineers had an obligation “to enter the political debate when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interest ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research.”

The group’s organizers include John H. Gibbons and Neal Lane, who were science advisers in the Clinton administration, the Nobel laureates Peter Agre and Alfred Gilman, and Susan F. Wood, who resigned from the Food and Drug Administration last year to protest the agency’s delay in approving over-the-counter sales of the so-called Plan B emergency contraception.

“The issues we are talking about happen to be issues in which the administration’s record is quite poor,” Dr. Lane said. But he said the goal was to protect “the integrity of science” so that Americans could have confidence in the government’s science-based decisions.

Mike Brown, the group’s executive director, said it would be a 527 organization under tax laws, meaning that it could be involved in electoral politics, and that contributions to the group would not be tax deductible. He said it would focus its resources — Internet advertising, speakers and other events — on races in which science issues play a part.

The group is looking at the Senate race in Virginia between George Allen, the incumbent Republican, and James Webb, a Democrat; a stem cell ballot issue in Missouri; the question of intelligent design in Ohio; and Congressional races in Washington State, Mr. Brown said.

In what it described as a Bill of Rights for scientists and engineers, the group said that researchers who receive federal funds should be free to discuss their work publicly, and that appointments to federal scientific advisory committees should be based on scientific qualifications, not political beliefs. It said the government should not support science education programs that “include concepts that are derived from ideology,” an apparent reference to creationism and its ideological cousin, intelligent design.

And it said the government should not publish false or misleading scientific information, something Dr. Wood said occurred when the National Cancer Institute briefly posted an item on its Web site suggesting that abortion was linked to breast cancer.

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