News & Views item - November  2004



Presidential Science Advisor, John Marburger Warns US Researchers Who Publicly Opposed George W. Bush's Re-election -- Wrong Message, Wrong Audience, Wrong Candidate. (November 12, 2004)

    Science's Jeffrey Mervis, assisted by reporters Jocelyn Kaiser, Andrew Lawler, and David Malakoff, got an earful from 63-year-old applied physicist John Marburger III, a former university president and head of Brookhaven National Laboratory, and since 2002 President Bush's science advisor. He told Mervis that those criticising  the Administration's science policies during the presidential campaign may be undermining public support for science. "Public support" equating to federal funding. He indicated to Science that "such partisan attacks... may make it harder to prevent science from losing ground in the next 4 years, and he took particular aim at the 48 Nobel laureates who publicly endorsed Kerry last summer and a group--Scientists and Engineers for Change--that spent $100,000 to stage about 30 events on university campuses around the nation at which researchers criticised Bush's policies. It would seem safe to assume that Dr Marburger didn't fire off his salvo without direction from the White House.


Physicist Michael Lubell, who handles government affairs for the American Physical Society told Science, "Rightly or not, I think the science community is now perceived by this White House as the enemy, and that will make it harder to open doors."


Marburger also alluded to the Boston-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), over their challenge that the Administration has manipulated or suppressed science advice to advance its political agenda, (see TFW1, 2. 3. 4,) and claimed, "I don't think that it was good for science to have done that; it was clear from the beginning because of the sweeping nature of the charges that the list of concerns were coming from the Democrats." That brought a vociferous denial from UCS chair physicist Kurt Gottfried, emeritus at Cornell University, saying that's not true "We're used to having our advice ignored or our recommendations rejected by both parties but we felt strongly that the quality of the scientific information coming from this Administration was being compromised by the way the process was being managed. And that's why we spoke up."


Ecologist Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University in Corvallis told Science simply, "I can't speak for others, but I can assure you that my own motivation was not political."


Unfortunately for the presidential science advisor after promising a powerful rebuttal to the detailed UCS document, he produced an unconvincing reply. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the federal science budget is initiated by the President, and what will happen over the next four years will be determined by how the Republican controlled Congress manipulates the Presidential requests.