By Rep. Henry Waxman
Historically, the United States government has invested more money and
resources in scientific research than any other nation, and federal agencies
such as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration,
and the Environmental Protection Agency have earned global reputations
for scientific excellence and integrity.
This record, however, is now in jeopardy. Leading scientists and scientific
journals have raised serious complaints about political interference that
is eroding the ability of federal agencies to conduct exemplary research
and promote public health and security.
One effect has been to stymie research. When President Bush banned
the creation of new embryonic stem cell lines in August 2001, he assured
that more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already
existed and that research on these lines could lead to breakthrough
therapies and cures. In fact, over two years later, there are fewer
than 20 cell lines available to researchers. Leading scientists have said
that the president's restrictions are undermining this promising
field of research.
The public is being increasingly misled about scientific evidence
pertaining to important policy decisions. For example, in aggressively
technology for intercepting an inbound missile, Bush administration
officials testified to Congress that the system would be 90 percent
intercepting missiles from the Korean peninsula by the end of 2004.
However, these claims are not considered credible by outside experts.
in weapons systems and testing says that the program is at least
a decade from completion, and the editors of Scientific American have
written that researchers' best guess is that a reliable
system is unfeasible.
In addition, the quality of scientific advice within federal agencies
is suffering. The Federal Advisory Committee Act was passed to insure
that advisory committees be fairly balanced in terms of the points
of view represented and will not be inappropriately influenced
by the appointing authority or by any special interest. Yet recent
appointments have been criticized by leading scientists and journals as
being driven more by political litmus tests than by scientific credentials.
For example, last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
dropped experts on childhood lead poisoning from a key advisory committee
at CDC. In their place, HHS added individuals with ties to the lead industry,
including one who has testified for industry that a lead level of 70 micrograms
per deciliter is safe for a child's brain. This is seven times
the maximum level considered safe by the Institute of Medicine.
I have also become increasingly concerned about a pattern of political
interference at the National Institutes of Health, the world's
largest public funder of medical research. There have been unjustified
to agency Web sites, ideological litmus tests for advisers, and interference
with scientists studying topics that offend fringe conservative groups.
In recent weeks, Bush administration officials have pursued a damaging
privatization plan over the objections of NIH leaders, and a senior
scientist has written that staff morale is at an all-time low.
More on this disturbing pattern can be found at a Web site I have created:
It is my hope that increased exposure of the administration's
behavior will spur a strong response. We must hold our government accountable
central tenet of science: that the truth can only be found by respecting
freedom of inquiry and scientific integrity.
And as a corollary, we should expect our government to recognize a central
tenet of policymaking: that more and better evidence makes for better
Rep. Henry Waxman is the ranking Democrat on the Committee
on Government Reform. He can be reached at