Reviewed 8/01/2007

Undermining Science, by Seth Shulman

Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration
Seth Shulman
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006




ISBN 0-520-24702-4 202pp. HC $?

Much has been written about misuse of science in the administration of George W. Bush. The pattern was clear enough in his first term that groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists were issuing reports about it. Despite official denials1, the second term has given us more of the same: more suppression of inconvenient facts, more staffing of advisory panels for loyalty rather than ability; more muzzling or dismissal of those who dissent.

Science journalist Seth Shulman worked on the original UCS report, and he is uniquely qualified to document the administration's continuing abuses. Far from a political hack job or a liberal polemic, this book is a thorough catalog of widespread tampering with scientific truth across the board, in areas including public health, protection of endangered species, and the impact of global warming, Shulman's main focus is science, but he also touches on matters of security such as the deployment of ballistic missile defenses despite their dubious effectiveness, and the slanted intelligence that led us into war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

He exposes the tactics of key "under the radar" insiders within the administration: insiders like Philip Cooney, who edited EPA climate science reports to weaken their impact; Steven Galson, instrumental in blocking non-prescription status for the safe and effective morning-after pill Plan B; Jeffrey Holmstead, who acted to undermine the Clean Air Act; and Steven Griles, who allowed coal companies in Appalachia to continue cutting off mountaintops and dumping the residue into streams. There was no shortage of industry lobbyists or true believers to fill vacancies on advisory panels. Their tactics were varied; but they all were dedicated to one very dangerous end: selecting facts to support a desired policy.

Shulman does a good job of describing these insiders and their tactics. His book is well written, thoroughly researched, with abundant end-notes and a good index. It has some defects, but not many. I recommend it highly to anyone who seeks to understand the depth of scientific duplicity within the Bush administration, and consider it worthy of anyone's library.

1 Virtually everyone in an official capacity insists the administration respects diversity of opinion and the integrity of data. But their actions say otherwise. John Marberger, the president's science advisor, issued a point-by-point rebuttal to the 2004 UCS report — a rebuttal whose every point was either wrong or irrelevant.
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