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Biased Science

Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 12:47 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Let’s start with the given that everything Washington does is political. Now let’s get more specific and point out that even in areas politicians say shouldn’t be politicized, if it’s done by the federal government, it is by definition politicial. The politicians and political appointees who most bemoan the politicization of science are usually those whose grasp of the scientific is most colored by their own idealogical biases.

From climate change to fat in food to abortion and education, issues that can least afford to be distorted by politics have been most distorted. That’s why it is ironic almost to the point of hilarity when politicians venture into the scientific arena insisting their motives are pure. Monday’s New York Times Science section had a thought-provoking piece about the prevalence of conflicts of interest within the government where scientific study is concerned.

Meanwhile, Mr. Taubes writes, journalists have paid too little attention to the scientific questions or to other types of bias: “Scientists were believed to be free of conflicts if their only source of funding was a federal agency, but all nutritionists knew that if their research failed to support the government position on a particular subject, the funding would go instead to someone whose research did.” David Kritchevsky, a member of the federal advisory board that issued dietary guidelines in the 1980s, summed up the pressure on researchers: “The U.S. government is as big a pusher as industry. If you say what the government says, then it’s okay. If you say something that isn’t what the government says, or that may be parallel to what industry says, that makes you suspect.”

When you consider that the federal government is basically just a really humongous business with absolutely no competition, you could say that government funding is even more corrupting than funding from private industry. Damn, that sounded really, really libertarian.

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