At last week's AAAS Candidates' Forum on Science & Technology Policy,
the representatives of the campaigns for President George Bush and Senator
John Kerry (D-MA) gave fairly familiar answers to questions regarding
science policy. (See http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/134.html
for references to several web resources.) One subject not previously
addressed attracted considerable attention: the role of scientists in
the political process.
Representing the Bush-Cheney campaign was former Representative Robert
S. Walker (R-PA). Walker was a prominent Republican leader during his
20-year tenure in the House and was the chairman of the House Science
Committee. The representative for the Kerry-Edwards campaign was Henry
Kelly. Kelly is now the president of the Federation of American Scientists
and was assistant director for the Office of Science and Technology
Policy. The 90-minute forum was moderated by Mary Woolley, the president
of Research!America. An audio cast of this forum may be heard at http://www.aaas.org/election/
Early in the forum Woolley asked the following question, which was
referred to later by Walker:
WOOLLEY: "As a follow-up to that question about social
and behavioral sciences there has been some threat recently to the peer
review process raised by your former colleagues on the floor of the
House questioning some specific grants and their value. And I wonder
whether the Administration overall has a position on that and whether
the Kerry administration would?"
WALKER: "Well, I think that the Administration has shown
that it is very much in favor of peer-reviewed science and this is something
that happens in Congress from time-to-time. If you don't have people
who can kind of consistently go to the [House] floor and explain why
science has to have some latitude to look at a variety of subjects,
you find people who go through the grant process and find projects that
they can bring to the floor as wasteful spending. It's been a long tradition
in the Congress and sadly some scientists do a very poor job of sometimes
describing their science in the title of their projects. And it lends
to a political dialogue which is not at all helpful. I am hopeful that
the powers that be on Capitol Hill at the present time on the various
science committees will take it upon themselves to come out and defend
the idea that you ought to have science which is based on peer-review
and not on political decision making. I would say that that's also the
case that they ought to come out and do the same thing on earmarks.
Clearly that does not represent the Administration. The Administration
has been very, very good throughout the four years in backing peer-reviewed
KELLY: Senator Kerry has "essential[ly] an identical statement
about the concern about earmarking and the need for consistent high
quality peer review."
A question was then asked about the involvement of scientists in the
WOOLLEY: "To ask each of you to address the fact that it
has been apparent to us all that many prominent scientists are in a
new way that we haven't seen before taking issue with the Bush Administration,
including explicitly lining-up in a very public way for Senator Kerry
and a change in Administrations. And this is despite the fact that science
funding, as you have pointed out, has indeed increased over the last
few years. One question might be, where are the scientists for Bush
in a prominent way? Can you comment on that, Bob?"
WALKER: "Well, there are a number of scientists out there
who have expressed interest in the Bush campaign and have been prominently
willing to endorse President Bush. But look, I mean I think that there
is a political dimension to this that just has to be recognized. A lot
of scientists have come out of the academic community, come out of institutions
that have a heavy liberal bias, and I don't doubt that their politics
and so-on reflects not only their judgement about science, but at times
their personal politics inside of academia. And, if they want to come
out and support Senator Kerry, that's fine. But let's, what I find disappointing
is that when we fail to separate the science from the politics. Because
you are politically committed to a particular cause does not mean that
the other side has in fact undermined science. And I think that science
does itself a disservice when in fact when it mixes those two things
in a way that can engender a push back at some point even in the future.
And so, my intent here is to say, this is an investment, this is an
Administration willing to make an investment in science and innovation.
The science community ought to recognize that's a plus, not a minus.
And that if you engage in political activity, fine, go out as an American
citizen and say anything you want about the candidate that you support,
but don't suggest that as you do it, that this in some way reflects
the reality of the science."
KELLY: "I would like to say one brief thing about the scientists
[inaudible]. I think that the issue is why have the scientists been
so active in this election as opposed to other elections? It really
has been unprecedented. You've had 48 Nobel Laureates come out and flat
endorse the Kerry candidacy. Nothing like that happened under the first
WALKER: "Well, Gore had 52...Nobel Laureates...this isn't
KELLY: "The fact is that this is a suite of issues which
has really mobilized a lot of scientists and gotten them into the political
arena, in a very active and aggressive way."
Later in the forum the discussion returned to the above point.
WALKER: "Just to make a point on the whole business of
numbers of scientists. Back in 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists
did another political document in which they issued an attack on the
first Bush Administration. And at that point they had 1,700 scientists
that had signed onto it, and they claimed a majority of Nobel Laureates
and so on. This is not a new thing in political campaigns. This has
been going on for a decade or two, and my point is that it just doesn't
have very much to do with whether or not we get good science."
QUESTION FROM THE PRESS: "You said there was a need to
separate the science from the politics. Failing to do so would engender
a push back at some point in the future. What was meant by that? Can
you clarify push back'?"
WALKER: "Well look, the only point I am making is that
if scientists are going to be politically active, all of us who have
been in politics know that the opposition finds ways of moving in opposite
ways at times. And so, what you could find, is that that kind of prominence
will create debates on Capitol Hill that I don't think science should
do. If you are in fact going to say that your scientific efforts are
in fact tied to political decisions, then don't expect that the political
decision makers are going to separate it when you want to get away from
that kind of a choice. And's that the point that I am making is that
in various political forums, science will become a controversial subject
rather than a cooperative subject, if you begin to tie the pieces together
[Kelly declined to comment.]
Woolley asked Kelly and Walker to comment on "sound science."
As part of his answer, Kelly stated:
KELLY: "And I think to suggest that because scientists
are raising concerns about the openness and integrity of the process
if they should come out, that they are going to be punished politically
is not a terribly attractive message to be sending."
WALKER: "Well, no one is suggesting that they are going
to be punished politically. Just that if they get into politics, they
are going to find that they are in politics, is the important thing."
QUESTION FROM THE PRESS: "I wanted to follow-up on the
question of push back and being involved in politics. Because the implication
is, if I follow what you said correctly, seemed to be that if science
is made a part of political decisions, then it becomes a political matter,
and push back may be involved. Since you made the point very clearly
at the beginning, of the Bush Administration's support for science funding,
are you saying that therefore funding might be in question?"
WALKER: "No, I didn't say that at all. I mean, I didn't
even relate it to the Bush Administration. My point is the one we discussed
a few minutes ago about the fact that people on Capitol Hill can go
and find science projects and begin to ridicule them in the process
of what goes on inside [the] congressional process, and they can find
ways of cutting money, because they say that something sounds to them
to be not what they would want to have happening with public money.
You get those kinds of issues arising. I think over the years that I
was on Capitol Hill we did a pretty good job of trying to endorse science,
even at times when it became controversial to do so. I think that can
continue to be the case. My only point is that when you practice politics,
you practice politics."