POLITICAL DISTORTION OF SCIENCE
Every day inside FDA, EPA, DEA, OSHA, FAA, CDC, the U.S. Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Health and Human Services career scientists labor under political managers. Those managers frequently edit, alter, and amend scientific findings to support politically desired outcomes. This process is known as Lysenkoism. It corrupts and distorts the marketplace of ideas and information to serve the political ends of those in power. Politically favored orthodoxies win out over the pursuit of truth in science to our detriment.
Trofim Lysenko served as Director of the Institute of Genetics of the USSR’s Academy of Sciences from 1940 to 1965. As a young botanist and agronomist of peasant origin, he gained the attention of Joseph Stalin when he addressed a major famine issue. Severe Russian winters destroyed early winter wheat seedlings. Lysenko established that hydrating and chilling the seedlings could preserve them to yield Spring harvests. With the political stature achieved due to his popularity with Stalin, Lysenko went on to rule over Soviet biological and agricultural science, demanding rigid adherence to his pseudoscientific theories, which gained political protection from the Soviet government. Scientists who dissented from Lysenko’s edicts on were sometimes executed. The term Lysenkoism refers to the manipulation of science to support politically desired ends.
As our own federal government has increasingly interjected itself into private decisions related to science (such as those related to fracking for shale gas extraction, to defining what species are endangered and to defining what constitutes wet lands and wilderness lands, to the development of new drugs, to the role of certain nutrients in reducing the risk of disease, to the kinds of surfaces and equipment that are least likely to harbor pathogens in food processing, among many others), the government has established political orthodoxies in science. Those political orthodoxies are usually distortions of science that selectively cull from scientific evidence that which may be argued to be supportive of a desired political outcome. The orthodoxies rarely mirror the state of scientific opinion because they ordinarily presume only that science definitive which supports a desired regulatory conclusion.
For example, the EPA may deem fracking to impose unacceptable environmental risks when, in fact, risks to the environment are likely minimal depending on the techniques employed to reduce environmental impact. The FDA may deem scientific evidence in support of a nutrient’s disease risk reducing effect insufficient to support a nutrient-disease claim when those who study the nutrient-disease relationship may think the claim well supported. The FDA may deem scientific evidence significant in support of a drug’s efficacy when those who study the drug may think it to lack effectiveness above a placebo effect. The EPA may deem movement of soils during construction to pose a potential risk to protected rivers, lakes, or streams when, in reality, there is no scientific foundation for the conclusion. The list of the federal government’s distortions of science is a very long one indeed.
Often scientists within a federal agency or department will be predisposed to reach conclusions that are supported in science only to find that political managers above them reject the conclusions. At the FDA, career scientists frequently lament that their scientific evaluations are altered by political managers who manipulate reviews of new drugs, health claim petitions, and medical devices to achieve politically preferred outcomes. The same is generally true of the relationship between scientists and their political managers throughout the federal administrative agencies. Entire organizations, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, have come into existence precisely because of untoward manipulations of science by political managers in the government.
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In an age when the federal government was of far smaller size, scope and regulatory effect, manipulations of this kind had a de minimis impact on the private sector. Today, however, the federal government’s scientific orthodoxies tend to dominate and define all standards applicable in the private sector. Overall, this politicization of science dumbs down the marketplace of scientific ideas and information and results in less innovation and improvement in the standard of living.
In short, we are not only victimized by a federal government that directly regulates out of existence opportunity and enterprise but also by one that manipulates science, altering our perception of the world and denying us the progress in thinking and in the human condition that would otherwise come were we otherwise free.
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