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Censorship United States Science

U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Finding 1171

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the patriotic-conclusions dept.
tree3075 writes "The LA Times is reporting that a survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has found hundreds of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists have been instructed to change findings to favor business interests. I'm not surprised anymore when I read these things."
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U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Finding

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  • Oh No!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrP- (45616) <rob@e[ ]emrp.net ['lit' in gap]> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:11PM (#11638342) Homepage
    "Nothing for you to see here. Please move along."

    Oh no! They got to Slashdot too!
  • Not really news... (Score:4, Informative)

    by aendeuryu (844048) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:13PM (#11638355)
    Scientists were saying the same thing just under a year ago... [ucsusa.org]
  • Not surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thedogcow (694111) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:14PM (#11638365)
    It is unfortunate that this happens in the scientific community... a community that should have an objective and unbiased interest/perspective.

    Same story about "Global Warming". You have scientists that are paid by the oil companies to deny that global temperatures are increasing, when you have other "no biased' scientists that are giving direct proof of anthropogenic interference to the global climate system.
    • Scientists??? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PaulBu (473180) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:07AM (#11638748) Homepage
      Hey, those guys and girl are public sector employees (Dept. of Fish and Game, I think it was called, though now it is apparently Fish and Wildlife Service). Think of the last time you visited your loval DMV office -- maybe most of them have THAT particular type of personalty, you know what I am talking about. In any case, not too many are going to bite the hand which gives them nice govt. job (with GREAT benefits) when there is some "pressure" to look another way. On the other hand, they feel quite free to bitch in an (anonymous?) survey, no, it is almost impossible to fire them!

      I guess the term "scientist" lost it luster when it stopped being applied to indepedently wealthy gentlemen with curiosity about how the World works (or ones so smart that wealthy private persons just feel like funding their work) and started being applied to everyone with some education and certain level in the society. I wish we would go back to 18th century in the way we do science. Otherwise it is all fake, serving this or that special groop (whoever pays).

      And yes, technically my job title is "Scientist", working for one of the big defence contractors. No, I do not do "science" in the original sense of this word. But looking back at the University life -- it was prostitution as well... ;-)

      Paul B.
  • by TellarHK (159748) <tellarhk.hotmail@com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:15PM (#11638374) Homepage Journal
    Well, let's see. We've had two columnists paid off, party plants in the Presidential press pool, and 200 scientists now reporting they've been pressured to alter results. Yeah, those red staters really are so much smarter than those of us in the blue states. They memorize the propaganda more easily.

    Every year I fear more and more for our country, and every year the average American just seems to be that much more baffled by bullshit. We're never going to see anything resembling what we -thought- was a "clean" electoral process again, I'm afraid.
  • by lifejunkie (785838) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:17PM (#11638385)
    Scientific honesty is the core and foundation of all of our discoverys. If kepler modified his measurements to fit into the then current view of things, astronomy would have been set back 100 years.
    • Nope... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PaulBu (473180) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:18AM (#11638799) Homepage
      If kepler modified his measurements to fit into the then current view of things, astronomy would have been set back 100 years.

      Do not you think that there were plenty of astroLOGISTS at the time who might have noticed that things do not exactly add up up there, but just were not interested in following THAT route? Kepler might as well decide to be one of them (and forever forgotten), in which case another bright guy with access to the same technology (best at that time) would publish the same observations.

      The problem is that now almost all science is funded from "public funds", so there is really no incentive to go against what the public believes (and public ius represented by the bureocrats in Washington, you know... ;-) ).

      Paul B.
  • Surprised? No. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by burgburgburg (574866) <splisken06NO@SPAMemail.com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:18PM (#11638387)
    Annoyed, appalled, infuriated, sickened? Yes.

    It's so encouraging to know that this administration so thoroughly distorts and perverts "facts" that would potentially interfere with business interests.

    Intelligence, economics, science ...yep, they've got all the bases covered. Covered in fantasy, but covered nonetheless.

  • by focitrixilous P (690813) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:20PM (#11638397) Journal
    Alright, it seems we are headed towards a future where a lie said often enough is the truth. The WMDs in Iraq is proof that the Bush administration is more than willing to bend the truth to unresonable extremes to support their holy causes.

    A biologist in Alaska wrote in response to the survey: "It is one thing for the department to dismiss our recommendations, it is quite another to be forced (under veiled threat of removal) to say something that is counter to our best professional judgment."

    What's worse is that the American people didn't care to open their eyes to this and get rid of W when they had the chance. The scientists can only fight for so long before the next, brain washed generation is far more willing to churn out whatever studies are requested for the right price. Science is becoming another consumable, to be bought and sold like oil and food.

    I guess there might be some hope left, but I'd look for a lot more of this in the next 4 years. I don't forsee a Worker's Revolution either, but I think we can do better and leave some things as unbuyable. Maybe I'm just a member of a dying breed that holds onto a bit of dignity. I mean, liars are going to have more money, and morals no longer seem to matter in our reltavistic society. I guess relativistic science is next, and I don't mean Special Relativity.

  • Sad reality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FiReaNGeL (312636) <fireang3l AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:21PM (#11638409) Homepage
    Slightly related to the post, but here's my 2 cents. Science is expensive. Very expensive. And when a scientist has the choice between getting his career ruined because of bad results / wrong hypothesis or lie in order to get a second chance, some do chose the second option. Of course, the 'lie' isn't always intentional, even conscious; some tend to alter to reality in order to see what they want to see. You can't be always right, but when you're wrong, funding (private or public) gets a lot tougher to get. It can be fatal to a scientific career... when you put your life behind an idea, you tend to want to be right. No matter what. The funding system is just bad; failure is punished too harshly.

    Now back on topic, political ingerence in science is even worse. Especially when motivated by a $$ agenda. Your career versus a should-be-protected plant? Not everyone has the courage to say 'no'... I admire this group of scientist, they had the courage to stand up. Sadly, some don't, and we'll never know it.
    • Re:Sad reality (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MilenCent (219397)
      And when a scientist has the choice between getting his career ruined because of bad results / wrong hypothesis or lie in order to get a second chance, some do chose the second option.

      But on the plus side, 200 researchers came forward rather than buckle. That's actually amazing.
  • by jonpublic (676412) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:24PM (#11638427)
    science should be held above political agendas.

    typical republican response:

    its not happening.

    it is happening, but clinton did it first.

    left wing media conspiracy to slam bush. (which is pretty funny considering the whole talon news thing.)

    cite another left wing conspiracy. BOOGIE MEN EVERYWHERE!

    cite michael crichton.

    cite a volcano! think of how many spotted owls have been killed by volcanos! think of how much C02 volcanos release.

    like humans can actually damage nature, its so big!

    but economic growth is important.

    when the real response should be: really? lets fix this. remove politics from the system.
    • by Jerf (17166) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:25AM (#11638835) Journal
      remove politics

      I was with you, right up until you suggested that we remove humans from science.

      What, you don't think that's what you said? Well, you'll understand eventually. Either that, or show me a group bigger than 100 people that has "no politics" in which case I'll concede I might be wrong.... but even if you show me such a group it'll still remain the more probable outcome that you are simply blind to the politics. (Evidence: If you really think it's only "Republicans" bending science, it's probably because the bending done by "Democrats" is invisible to you. Caveat: The terms Republican and Democrat are not really meaningful in this context anyhow [jerf.org]; I'm borrowing your particular meanings.)

      (When people say "remove politics from the system", what they are really saying, even if they don't realize it, is that the system should align with their politics, which are of course not politics, but merely and quite obviously the truth. Were it only so simple...)

      This is not to say the diagnosis is inaccurate... oh, you've oversimplified to the point of effective absurdity but that's just what happens in a short Slashdot post, I have too but at least I labelled some of it. I'm just saying that you might as well phrase your "solution" as "Booga booga, grunt, wallabie wallabie smooger!" in terms of the useful, implementable solution content it contains.
      • by nathanh (1214) on Friday February 11, 2005 @04:37AM (#11639868) Homepage
        typical republican response: it is happening, but clinton did it first.

        If you really think it's only "Republicans" bending science, it's probably because the bending done by "Democrats" is invisible to you.

        Hey jonpublic, looks like you were right.

        When people say "remove politics from the system", what they are really saying, even if they don't realize it, is that the system should align with their politics, which are of course not politics, but merely and quite obviously the truth. Were it only so simple...

        Actually what they're saying is that they expect the scientists to follow the scientific method because the method isn't affected by politics or personal bias.

        Just like you would expect a racist policeman to enforce the law without bias against race, or like you would expect an anti-abortion judge to respect a woman's right to abortion, you should also expect a scientist to devise experiments and report their findings without bias.

        Humans being humans, sometimes personal bias does intrude on the job and they don't do what they're supposed to do. The policeman unfairly treats a particular race, the judge prevents a legal abortion, and the scientist gives false results that satisfies their own personal bias. But that simply makes them bad policemen, bad judges, and bad scientists. These people do not last long. Their inability to do their job is eventually discovered.

        So when the grandparent said "remove politics from the system" they weren't being naive, like you seem to think, but they were instead wisely recognising that politics has no place in science. The method was devised to keep our bias and the science separate. Good scientists produce results that disagree with their politics. Bad scientists hide or falsify results to appease their politics. That's what this article was about - scientists being told to falsify their results - because the politics was intruding on the science. Fortunately these were good scientists who blew the whistle on the politicians attempting to pervert science.

        The answer isn't to throw your hands in the air and say "everybody is biased", as you have done, because that naively assumes that the scientists allow their bias to decide their findings. As you should now be aware, because I have explained it to you so clearly, that is precisely what the scientist avoids by following the method.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:27PM (#11638448)
    once you pull something like this, you do not deserve to be called a "scientist" any longer
  • A few issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tethys_was_taken (813654) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:31PM (#11638483) Homepage
    First off, from TFA:
    The survey of the agency's scientific staff of 1,400 had a 30% response rate and was conducted jointly by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
    and
    More than half of the biologists and other researchers who responded to the survey said they knew of cases in which
    [Emphasis added]

    Okay, so "more than half" of 30% makes it a little over 15%. So thats around 210+ scientists. Technically, the summary is right in saying "hundreds", but it sounds a whole lot more sensational than it really is.

    Secondly, also from TFA

    Mitch Snow, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency had no comment on the survey, except to say "some of the basic premises just aren't so."
    If that's not dodging the issue, I don't know what is. I would seriously like a spokesman for a scientific agency to give a better defense to his stand than that very vague statement that says nothing.

    False sensationalism and dodging aside, I believe this is a very serious issue. If the scientific integrity of this office has been reduced because of corporate pressures, there's very little faith left in me for any scientific agency. People generally assume that science works in the best interests of man, even though the results may go against him.

  • News Flash! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ErikZ (55491) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:42PM (#11638570)
    In the news today, scientists working on politically sensitive issues are pressured by politicans.

    Slashdot readers are shocked and amazed.

    "I blame the Bush administration" says one.

    "Who would of thought there would be a connection between the Federal government and Federally mandated enviromental issues?" Crys another.

    "Wait, it doesn't say if enviromental groups were pressuring the Scientists." Commented one before he was quicken beaten down.

  • by the_skywise (189793) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:47PM (#11638600)
    1400 people were sent surveys. 30% responded which means about 420 people responded. These people responded in spite of "...memos from Fish and Wildlife officials that instructed employees not to respond to the survey, even if they did so on their own time. Snow said that agency employees could not use work time to respond to outside surveys."

    However, 69% [~300 of the 420 people who responded] said they had never been given such a directive[to alter results]. And, although more than half of the respondents said they had been ordered to alter findings to lessen protection of species, nearly 40% said they had never been required to do so.

    So of the 1400 people sent surveys, 420 responded IN SPITE OF ORDERS NOT TO DO SO and of those 420, only 42 said they had been forced to alter results.

    That's not to say that science and politics shouldn't be mixed this way. It's bad. But it happens on BOTH SIDES of the political line.

    Look at one of the last quotes:
    "Sally Stefferud, a biologist who retired in 2002 after 20 years with the agency, said Wednesday she was not surprised by the survey results, saying she had been ordered to change a finding on a biological opinion.

    "Political pressures influence the outcome of almost all the cases," she said. "As a scientist, I would probably say you really can't trust the science coming out of the agency.""

    That's 12 years under Republican Administrations and 8 years under a Democratic one.

    You guys want to stop this? Good. But first realize this is not just a Bush/Republican problem... This is a SYSTEM WIDE problem.
    • by tfoss (203340) on Friday February 11, 2005 @03:27AM (#11639630)
      That's 12 years under Republican Administrations and 8 years under a Democratic one.

      You guys want to stop this? Good. But first realize this is not just a Bush/Republican problem... This is a SYSTEM WIDE problem.

      Except that the current administration has a certifiable habit of being deceptive or outright lying. Trying to impose a false moral equivalence is inappropriate in this situation. System wide or not, the Bush administration has provided ample evidence that they are far more prone to executive abuses than any previous administration in recent memory.

      -Ted

  • by copponex (13876) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:50PM (#11638630) Homepage
    In other news, the March of Freedom was going to happen anyway. [cnn.com]

    Bush just knows how to get it done propping up our military industrial complex. Thank God for that! (No, really! Thank the invisible man in the sky.)

    "I don't think Osama bin Laden sent those planes to attack us because he hated our freedom. I think he did it because of our support for Israel, our ties with the Saudi family and our military bases in Saudi Arabia. You know why I think that? Because that's what he fucking said! Are we a nation of 6-year-olds?" - David Cross
  • by discogravy (455376) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:50PM (#11638636) Homepage
    Chocolate rations are up! There is no environmental problem! The defecit is not a problem! Except social security, that's fucked! But tax breaks for the rich are the best idea since pre-emptive wars! We have always been at war with Oceania^WIraqanistanKorea!
  • by abulafia (7826) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:58PM (#11638691)
    There's a lot of babbling and finger pointing about political bias, the media, etc. Perhaps one voice of reason that's a favorite around here might have a thing or two to say [reason.com] on the topic that looks beyond party politics, and is extremely relevant to this discussion:
    The success of the U.S. has not come from one consistent cause, as far as I can make out. Instead the U.S. will find a way to succeed for a few decades based on one thing, then, when that peters out, move on to another. Sometimes there is trouble during the transitions. So, in the early-to-mid-19th century, it was all about expansion westward and a colossal growth in population. After the Civil War, it was about exploitation of the world's richest resource base: iron, steel, coal, the railways, and later oil. For much of the 20th century it was about science and technology. The heyday was the Second World War, when we had not just the Manhattan Project but also the Radiation Lab at MIT and a large cryptology industry all cooking along at the same time. The war led into the nuclear arms race and the space race, which led in turn to the revolution in electronics, computers, the Internet, etc. If the emblematic figures of earlier eras were the pioneer with his Kentucky rifle, or the Gilded Age plutocrat, then for the era from, say, 1940 to 2000 it was the engineer, the geek, the scientist. It's no coincidence that this era is also when science fiction has flourished, and in which the whole idea of the Future became current. After all, if you're living in a technocratic society, it seems perfectly reasonable to try to predict the future by extrapolating trends in science and engineering. It is quite obvious to me that the U.S. is turning away from all of this. It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works; the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn't care for some of what scientists have to say. So the technical class is caught in a pincer between these two wings of the so-called culture war. Of course the broad mass of people don't belong to one wing or the other. But science is all about diligence, hard sustained work over long stretches of time, sweating the details, and abstract thinking, none of which is really being fostered by mainstream culture. Since our prosperity and our military security for the last three or four generations have been rooted in science and technology, it would therefore seem that we're coming to the end of one era and about to move into another. Whether it's going to be better or worse is difficult for me to say. The obvious guess would be "worse." If I really wanted to turn this into a jeremiad, I could hold forth on that for a while. But as mentioned before, this country has always found a new way to move forward and be prosperous. So maybe we'll get lucky again. In the meantime, efforts to predict the future by extrapolating trends in the world of science and technology are apt to feel a lot less compelling than they might have in 1955.
  • by shanen (462549) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @11:59PM (#11638698) Homepage Journal
    Seriously, the BushCo people, and espcially the religious fanatic Busheviks, apparently think there's some kind of statute of limitations on scientific reality. If they stall long enough it will just go away. Not.

    The sad or annoying thing is that at least a few of them do know better. Dick Cheney, for example. However, the only concern of those few is with cashing the checks before the reality bounce happens. That's not a question of a statute of limitations, but rather the post facto law thing. Sure, in the future people will regard them as a bunch of criminals--but too late.

  • by vandan (151516) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:17AM (#11638793) Homepage
    They way you Yanks are going you won't need any WOMD to fuck you over - you're doing a fine job all by yourself.

    Great choice of president, by the way. And secretary of state. And secretary of 'defence'. And ...
  • by Juggle (9908) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:09AM (#11639326) Homepage
    This is a case where RTFA is almost worse than nothing. Not only is the article biased, but the survey and those who made it is biased - and their reporting of the results is beyond biased.

    Here's a link to the survey questions and results:

    http://ucsusa.org/documents/FWS_questions_and_re su lts.pdf

    Reading the actual results of the survey tells a far different story than that reported by those conducting the survey - or the LA times who seem to have just regurgitated the PEER/UCS press release without doing any kind of actual reporting.

    Based on their own survey results most respondants feel the opposite of what is being portrayed in this story. Most of them are happy with the FWS and don't feel pressured.

    Of course also keep in mind that the FWS told it's employees not to respond to this survey (most likely because they knew UCS/PEER were just looking to create another hit piece since that's what PEER does full-time.) So those who did respond are already those who aren't good at following directions and are probably upset with their jobs for one reason or another.

    That this even counts as news is either a testament to how liberally biased the LA times is or just how poor "news" reporting in this country has become.

  • by kuzb (724081) on Friday February 11, 2005 @03:23AM (#11639620)
    (disclaimer: I'm not American, I'm just calling this as I see it. Some may be offended by this, sorry.)

    America is no longer the land of the free, and the home of the brave. It's just a haven for corporate controlled special interest groups. Too bad, if people (meaning the government, and the corporations they're tied to) were less interested in making money, and more interested in helping their own country, and the planet as a whole, they really could be what they claim they are. As it stands, it's pretty much a lie. We see this all the time in things ranging from the war in iraq (which was based on a false premise to begin with), to ridiculous patent grants, to other environmentally important things like the Kyoto Accord. All the while, these people who make the key decisions are not held accountable for their actions. And when they are held accountable, which is rare, they're treated with more respect than they should be due. Got a CEO who made millions off the suffering of others? I got two words for you: General Population. Right beside the murderers, car thieves and rapists. Too bad it doesn't happen.

    Frankly, I don't blame American individuals per-se. Some might say "well, you voted them in!" but if you have a good long look at the choices, there may as well not be any choices. Like people anywhere, they have their own worries on an individual level. It's not surprising that some of these scientists who are coerced by corporations with extreme power just comply. I mean, they have their own families to feed, and that has to be a primary worry of many of them. What would you do if someone threatened to take away your ability to provide for your kids? Lets face it, these people are caught in an economical machine they just can't change.

    The truth is, capitolism doesn't work in favour of the base population. It's a system based on keeping the poor as poor as possible, and the rich as rich as possible, with a mid-point "hump" that's really hard to get past, even if you work your ass off. The government tends to make this whole thing far worse by letting large business entities get away with murder.

    If I were American, I'd move. Anywhere has got to be better than where America is currently heading. You may wake up one day to find out your country has become the very thing you hate, assuming it's not there already.
  • science is science (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VanillaCoke420 (662576) <vanillacoke420&hotmail,com> on Friday February 11, 2005 @03:27AM (#11639633)
    Science should never be forced to change accordingly to politics. Didn't we learn anything from the past? Galileo Galilei, for example, was forced to change his mind because the backwards church demanded it. To say that these scientists today were silenced because during the last 15 years there was a democratic presient for 8 years is simply ridiculous. Are they complaining about how they were silenced back then, or are they complaining about how they're silenced now? I have read about how conservatives (who, for some reason, seem to believe in mythological creatures a lot) are trying to skew data to fit their own ideas on how reality should be. This doesn't have to do with biology alone, but also things such as abortion. There are more examples where science is slowly being forced to move to give room for personal beliefs and religion and politics. This is dangerous and dishonest and, yes, evil.
  • Junk science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Friday February 11, 2005 @06:03AM (#11640162)
    From TFA:
    "But when it comes to altering data, that is a serious matter. I am really sorry to hear that scientists working for the service feel they have to do that. Changing facts to fit the politics -- that is a very unhealthy thing. If I were a scientist in that position I would just refuse to do it."

    The "scientist" who alters data is simply not a scientist. Period. It's like a preacher who is an atheist. It simply doesn't make sense. Science is all about the data, and facts - even if your results fly into the face of your hypothesis, you have to accept them and find another explanation for them - not alter them.

    If politicians found out that scientists cannot be pressured they'd have to stop doing it. You shouldn't be able to "rent" a PhD and tell them what to say. I might as well buy my degree on the internet if I let that be done to me. But there are always spineless individuals in every field and they give the rest of us a bad name.

    Good for them for going public with this - one has to ask: exactly how long has this been going on, and where else has this junk science been taking place...

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