The Junk Science of George W. Bush


February 19, 2004


by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.


As Jesuit schoolboys studying world history we learned

that Copernicus and Galileo self-censored for many

decades their proofs that the earth revolved around the

sun and that a less restrained heliocentrist, Giordano

Bruno, was burned alive in 1600 for the crime of sound

science. With the encouragement of our professor, Father

Joyce, we marveled at the capacity of human leaders to

corrupt noble institutions. Lust for power had caused

the Catholic hierarchy to subvert the church's most

central purpose--the search for existential truths.


Today, flat-earthers within the Bush

Administration--aided by right-wing allies who have

produced assorted hired guns and conservative think

tanks to further their goals--are engaged in a campaign

to suppress science that is arguably unmatched in the

Western world since the Inquisition. Sometimes, rather

than suppress good science, they simply order up their

own. Meanwhile, the Bush White House is purging,

censoring and blacklisting scientists and engineers

whose work threatens the profits of the Administration's

corporate paymasters or challenges the ideological

underpinnings of their radical anti-environmental

agenda. Indeed, so extreme is this campaign that more

than sixty scientists, including Nobel laureates and

medical experts, released a statement on February 18

that accuses the Bush Administration of deliberately

distorting scientific fact "for partisan political





In a similar case, last November the EPA cut a private

deal with a pesticide manufacturer to take over federal

studies of a pesticide it manufactures. Atrazine is the

most heavily utilized weedkiller in America. First

approved in 1958, by the 1980s it had been identified as

a potential carcinogen associated with high incidences

of prostate cancer among workers at manufacturing

facilities. Testing by the US Geological Survey

regularly finds alarming concentrations of Atrazine in

drinking water across the corn belt. Even worse, last

year scientists at the University of California,

Berkeley, found that Atrazine at one-thirtieth the

government's "safe" 3 parts per billion level causes

grotesque deformities in frogs, including multiple sets

of organs. And this year epidemiologists from the

University of Missouri found reproductive consequences

in humans associated with Atrazine, including male semen

counts in farm communities that are 50 percent below

normal. Iowa scientists are finding similar results in a

current study.


The Bush Administration reacted to the frightening

findings not by banning this dangerous chemical, as the

European Union has, but by taking the studies away from

EPA scientists and, in an unprecedented move, giving the

chemical's manufacturer, Switzerland-based Syngenta,

control over federal research. In an interview with the

Los Angeles Times, Sherry Ford, a spokesperson for

Syngenta, praised without irony the advantages of having

the company monitor its own product. "This is one way we

can ensure it's not presenting any risk to the



In a dramatic expansion of this disturbing strategy, the

Bush Administration now plans to systematically turn

government science over to private industry by

contracting out thousands of science jobs to compliant

consultants already in the habit of massaging data to

support corporate profits. The National Park Service is

preparing a first phase of contracting reviews,

involving about 1,800 positions, including biologists,

archeologists and environmental specialists. Later

phases may entail replacement of 11,000 employees, more

than two-thirds of the service's permanent work force.




Science, like theology, reveals transcendent truths

about a changing world. At their best, scientists are

moral individuals whose business is to seek the truth.

Over the past two decades industry and conservative

think tanks have invested millions of dollars to corrupt

science. They distort the truth about tobacco,

pesticides, ozone depletion, dioxin, acid rain and

global warming. In their attempt to undermine the

credible basis for public action (by positing that all

opinions are politically driven and therefore any one is

as true as any other), they also undermine belief in the

integrity of the scientific process.


Now Congress and this White House have used federal

power for the same purpose. Led by the President, the

Republicans have gutted scientific research budgets and

politicized science within the federal agencies. The

very leaders who so often condemn the trend toward moral

relativism are fostering and encouraging the trend

toward scientific relativism. The very ideologues who

derided Bill Clinton as a liar have now

institutionalized dishonesty and made it the reigning

culture of America's federal agencies.


The Bush Administration has so violated and corrupted

the institutional culture of government agencies charged

with scientific research that it could take a generation

for them to recover their integrity even if Bush is

defeated this fall. Says Princeton University scientist

Michael Oppenheimer, "If you believe in a rational

universe, in enlightenment, in knowledge and in a search

for the truth, this White House is an absolute







Robert F. Kennedy Jr., senior attorney for the Natural

Resources Defense Council  ( and

president of the Waterkeeper Alliance

(, is working on a book

about President Bush's environmental policies, Crimes

Against Nature, to be published this spring by