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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Science Hindered, Hurt by Bush Administration - by Tammy Baldwin

My grandfather, who was a UW-Madison biochemistry professor, taught me about the importance of science and the integrity of the scientific process. I learned at an early age that pure science should always be just that pure, untainted and uninfluenced by political agendas.

In my grandfather's lab, scientists did independent research, and peers reviewed and commented on its merits. Politics, he taught me, had no place in the scientific process.

Consequently, I find it greatly disturbing that the Bush administration has used political and religious ideologies to influence national policy on science and medicine. In Congress, I have taken on the role of watchdog, alerting my colleagues and the public to instances of this type of interference and seeking to remedy the situation when it occurs.

For example, as far back as December 2003, two independent, expert Food and Drug Administration advisory panels overwhelmingly recommended making the Plan B emergency contraceptive the morning-after pill available over the counter. Based on scientific and medical evidence, they determined that Plan B should be offered over the counter; it was safe, effective and easily self-administered. Yet this recommendation was ignored.

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The manufacturers of Plan B continued their quest to make this safe, effective product more readily available. In September 2005, when a final decision had still not been issued, the top FDA official in charge of women's health issues, Susan Wood, resigned in protest.

Wood said at the time, "I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled."

In January 2005 I wrote the FDA commissioner and urged him to make Plan B available over the counter. And I continued to voice my concern until approval was finally granted, this summer, just months before an election. Coincidence? I think not.

Eight years ago UW-Madison researchers, led by Dr. James Thomson, made scientific history by being the first to create embryonic stem cells in the laboratory research that may result in treatments or cures for many diseases and conditions, including juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and spinal cord injury.

But ongoing research is restricted due to an irrational federal policy. In 2001, President Bush declared that no federal dollars could be used for research on embryonic stem cell lines that were derived after that time. This arbitrary restriction, politically motivated to appease special interests, ties the hands of our scientists, hinders scientific progress and, most sadly and grievously, hurts patients and their families.

In Congress, I co-sponsored H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005. The bill sought tocreate strong new safeguards and guidelines concerning research on human embryonic stem cells and open up the number of lines available to researchers beyond the limitations imposed by President Bush in 2001.

As a member of the leadership team assigned to muster enough votes for passage, I spoke of the work being done here at UW-Madison and of the people I've met who seek cures for the diseases that afflict them.I'm proud to say this bill passed in both the House and the Senate. Yet to appease his conservative political base, President Bush chose to issue his first veto, preventing the bill from becoming law. Politics trumped science; and the restrictions on stem cell research remain.

The Bush administration has also squelched action seeking to counter the effects of global warming on our environment. On that issue, a Washington Post columnist observed, "Woe unto any administration official who becomes so concerned about global warming that he actually tries to sound the alarm. As far back as 2004, Hansen stated: "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now." Hansen said the administration wants to hear only scientific results that "fit predetermined, inflexible positions." He called this "a recipe for environmental disaster," and I agree.

I remain deeply concerned about the politicization of science and its ramifications. To preserve the health and well-being of our people, our environment and our great research institutions, we must respect the scientific peer-reviewed process; we must ensure that our scientists are not being silenced or censored; and we must carefully weigh scientific evidence in the policymaking process.

Tammy Baldwin represents the Wisconsin's 2nd District in Congress.

Copyright 2006 The Capital Times
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SOURCE:
Science Hindered, Hurt by Bush Administration

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