Revolution #96, July 22, 2007
Former Surgeon General Exposes Suppression of Science by the Bush Regime
"Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried.” The speaker is former Surgeon General Richard Carmona who, on July 10, testified about the degree to which the Bush administration has suppressed science in the name of theology, ideology, and politics.
Carmona, who was the Surgeon General under George W. Bush from 2002 until 2006, told a House of Representatives committee, “There is nothing worse than ignoring science, or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of Surgeon General is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.”
Carmona described attending a meeting of top officials, shortly after his confirmation in which the subject of global warming was discussed. The officials concluded that global warming was a liberal cause and they dismissed it, he said. “And I said to myself, ‘I realize why I’ve been invited. They want me to discuss the science because they obviously don’t understand the science.’ I was never invited back,” Carmona said.
Carmona told the House committee that the Bush administration stifled his attempts to address issues of sex education. He said that scientific studies show that the most effective approach includes a discussion of contraceptives. “However,” Carmona said, “there was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to preach abstinence only, but I felt that was scientifically incorrect.”
When research with stem cells became a focus of debate, Dr. Carmona said he proposed that his office offer guidance “so that we can have, if you will, informed consent.” “I was told to stand down and not speak about it,” he said. “It was removed from my speeches.”
A critical issue in all of this is the role of science and the scientific method in U.S. society today. Two worldviews are being sharply posed against each other in many ways. On one side is a biblically based view, with its blind faith and obedience to sacred scriptures. On the other is the scientific method of exploration and investigation. Capitalist society is rooted in exploitation and oppression and in turn produces and promotes all kinds of ignorance and superstition about why things are the way they are. But today in the U.S., with Bush and everything he stands for (including his close ties to Christian fascists) driving the overall the ruling class agenda, science itself is under attack. People are being robbed of the very possibility of being able to understand and change the world in all its awe and wonder.
Lives at Stake
The issues being raised by Carmona are public health concerns that are literally life and death issues affecting millions of people.
In Bush’s abstinence-only policy, youth are not taught about the use of condoms but only told that they shouldn’t have sex until marriage. This policy, based on Christian fundamentalist beliefs about sexuality and sin, has contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. The Department of Health and Human Services deleted from its web site scientific health information that conflicted with the administration's "abstinence-only" approach to sex education. The Bush administration has gone as far as demanding that programs in Africa that receive U.S. government funds designated for AIDS treatment adopt a similar abstinence-only approach. This has intensified the spread of AIDS in Africa, where the disease is taking a horrific toll.
Bush’s stem cell policies hold back research that could potentially find cures to diseases that kill millions and millions of people. But this research is being suppressed because Christian fundamentalists think that it is “murdering babies” to use a few cells in a Petri dish in critical research.
Carmona testified to other instances in which the administration silenced him from speaking out on scientific issues:
- Top administration officials told him not to testify in a major trial against tobacco companies.
- Administration officials refused to release a Surgeon General’s report on global health. Officials told Carmona that the report was never released because it didn’t include enough references to President Bush.
- A report on the inadequacies of health care within the prison system has been held up because the administration does not want to spend more money on prisoners’ health care.
Some of the things Carmona was asked to do were crassly partisan. He said papers or speeches would not be approved unless they mentioned President Bush or the accomplishments of the Bush regime three times on every page. Government officials discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because of the charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family,” presumably the Kennedys.
Two other former Surgeons General testified at the hearing. They described ways in which they came under political pressure on scientific matters during their terms. C. Everett Koop, who served during the Reagan and the first Bush administration, testified that Reagan, “was pressed to fire me every day. You will recall that most of his cabinet believed that would be appropriate because of my description of the manner of transmission of AIDS and the belief among some at the time that those who had AIDS deserved what they got.” He said that he thought that speaking out about AIDS cost him a nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services in the first Bush administration.
David Satcher, who served under Clinton (after Jocelyn Elders was fired for talking about human sexuality), told the Committee that he was told to release a major report on Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior as a journal article rather than a Surgeon General’s Report because administration officials didn’t want a report that dealt with sex coming out during the controversy about Clinton and Monica Lewinski. Satcher also told the Committee that the Clinton administration rejected funding needle exchange programs for addicts even after numerous studies which found that the programs prevent the spread of diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C while not increasing drug use. While this testimony showed how capitalist relations continually interfere with unfettered scientific inquiry no matter who is in office, the hearing also revealed the degree to which the Bush administration represents an unprecedented leap in the suppression of science in the name of fundamentalist religion, mean-spirited politics, and corporate profits. As Carmona told the Committee, he spoke with other Surgeons General who all said that “they had never seen Washington, DC so partisan or a new Surgeon General so politically challenged and marginalized as during my tenure.”
Suppressing Scientific Understanding with Christian Fundamentalism
The testimony of Carmona, chilling as it is, represents only a small part of the actions of the Bush regime to suppress scientific inquiry. For example, James Hansen, head of the NASA department studying global climate change, was prevented from speaking out on global warming. His reports were edited, and his press releases had to be approved by the White House.
Political operatives in the administration refused to fund research grants that mentioned such words as homosexuality, drug abuse, or AIDS.
Christian fundamentalists whose views have no basis in science have been named to major governmental scientific commission. For example, Leon Kass serves on the President’s Council on Bioethics and was its chair from 2002–2005. Kass has attacked birth control, saying that a women’s destiny is to have children. He attacks homosexuality as “one of the sexual abominations of Leviticus.” Kass has also written essays that target what he sees as major societal problems such as the public licking of ice cream cones. Another member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Robert George, supports laws that would criminalize homosexuality, adultery, and fornication outside of marriage. Two prominent scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. William May were fired from the same advisory panel in 2004. Dr. Blackburn wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that she believed they were removed from the panel because of their support of stem cell research and that her opinion, which represents the consensus of the scientific community, was censored from the panels official report.
Joseph McIlhaney, a member and former co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council on AIDS, has said that “condoms are not a reliable defense against today’s epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases and has authored a pamphlet titled “Why Condoms Aren’t Safe.” While opposing condoms, McIlhaney argues that AIDS can be spread by sweat and tears.
Sitting on the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs is David Hager, a Kentucky gynecologist and Christian book author who refuses to prescribe IUDs to his patients and, according to Time magazine, to prescribe any contraception to unmarried women. According to the Washington Post, Hager was influential in persuading the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to deny non-prescription status to Plan B, the morning after pill.
The recent testimony by Surgeon General Carmona reveals how far Bush and his regime have taken us toward a new dark ages.
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