Ernie Dumas is an Arkansas treasure and in the event any of you fail to read his column every week in the Times, I want to plug it here. This week's is about Bush's heartless veto of stem cell legislation, but also about the administration's general elevation of fundamentalist religion over science.
Ideology and narrow religion, not the scientific method, determine the standard of truth. Throughout government, in scientific posts and on scientific advisory councils, real scientists have been dismissed, driven out or marginalized and replaced by religious fundamentalists. Michael Specter related it all in relentless detail in the March 13 New Yorker.
The results are most obvious in medicine. The prevailing doctrine at the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Health and Human Services is that medical breakthroughs should be thwarted if they prevent premarital pregnancy or eliminate disease or death from diseases that might occur as a result of premarital sex. The FDA refuses to make the emergency contraceptive Plan B (the morning-after pill) available over the counter because adolescent girls might get hold of it and have sex without suffering the consequences.
Last month, the FDA finally gave in and approved a vaccine that is 100 percent effective in protecting women against the most prevalent viruses that cause cervical cancer. But evangelical groups want to prevent its widespread use in school immunizations on the theory that if young teens get it they will not be scared of dying some day from cervical cancer and will want to have sex. Bush’s man in charge of the advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control that recommends immunization policies is Reginald Finger, who is connected to Focus on the Family, the most powerful evangelical group. The drug manufacturer is lobbying Finger and Focus on the Family to let the vaccine be used in immunization efforts.
Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released a survey of 997 FDA staff members that concluded that science was under attack and struggling at the FDA. Seventeen percent said they had been told to exclude or alter scientific information or their conclusions in FDA documents for nonscientific reasons, and more than 40 percent said they knew of cases where political appointees injected themselves into scientific conclusions.