The Buzz On Science And Ideology

Although, earlier this week, President Bush boldly declared himself to be The Decider, the disturbing reality is that he is The Ignorer, a decidedly incurious man subject to selective amnesia of the intellect. When the facts don’t jibe with our not-so-humble leader’s beliefs or wishes, he simply ignores them. The policies of the Bush administration are a testament to this mindset, and in no area is that truer than the sciences. The latest example of such is the FDA’s outright dismissal of the medical benefits of marijuana, as reported by Gardiner Harris of the New York Times:

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that “no sound scientific studies� supported the medical use of marijuana, contradicting a 1999 review by a panel of highly regarded scientists. The announcement inserts the health agency into yet another fierce political fight.

Susan Bro, an agency spokeswoman, said Thursday’s statement resulted from a past combined review by federal drug enforcement, regulatory and research agencies that concluded “smoked marijuana has no currently accepted or proven medical use in the United States and is not an approved medical treatment….â€?

Eleven states have legalized medicinal use of marijuana, but the Drug Enforcement Administration and the director of national drug control policy, John P. Walters, have opposed those laws.

A Supreme Court decision last year allowed the federal government to arrest anyone using marijuana, even for medical purposes and even in states that have legalized its use….

The Food and Drug Administration statement directly contradicts a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s most prestigious scientific advisory agency. That review found marijuana to be “moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting….â€?

Some scientists and legislators said the agency’s statement about marijuana demonstrated that politics had trumped science. “Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the F.D.A. making pronouncements that seem to be driven more by ideology than by science,� said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a medical professor at Harvard Medical School.

Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, a New York Democrat who has sponsored legislation to allow medicinal uses of marijuana, said the statement reflected the influence of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which he said had long pressured the F.D.A. to help in its fight against marijuana….

Opponents of efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses suggest that marijuana is a so-called gateway drug that often leads users to try more dangerous drugs and to addiction. But the Institute of Medicine report concluded there was no evidence that marijuana acted as a gateway to harder drugs. And it said there was no evidence that medical use of marijuana would increase its use among the general population. [full text]

While the buzzkills at the FDA were dispensing their statement, Rolling Stone magazine was publishing a thought-provoking article by Sean Wilentz, a professor of American studies at Princeton University, that examines whether George W. Bush is The Worst President In History. While many facets of Mr. Bush and his administration are touched upon in the article, what caught my eye was what Wilentz had to say about the overarching faith of this president (and his core constituency) and how such has influenced policy with regard to the sciences:

The one noncorporate constituency to which Bush has consistently deferred is the Christian right, both in his selections for the federal bench and in his implications that he bases his policies on premillennialist, prophetic Christian doctrine. Previous presidents have regularly invoked the Almighty. McKinley is supposed to have fallen to his knees, seeking divine guidance about whether to take control of the Philippines in 1898, although the story may be apocryphal. But no president before Bush has allowed the press to disclose, through a close friend, his startling belief that he was ordained by God to lead the country. The White House’s sectarian positions — over stem-cell research, the teaching of pseudoscientific “intelligent design,â€? global population control, the Terri Schiavo spectacle and more — have led some to conclude that Bush has promoted the transformation of the GOP into what former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips calls “the first religious party in U.S. history.â€?

Bush’s faith-based conception of his mission, which stands above and beyond reasoned inquiry, jibes well with his administration’s pro-business dogma on global warming and other urgent environmental issues. While forcing federally funded agencies to remove from their Web sites scientific information about reproductive health and the effectiveness of condoms in combating HIV/AIDS, and while peremptorily overruling staff scientists at the Food and Drug Administration on making emergency contraception available over the counter, Bush officials have censored and suppressed research findings they don’t like by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture. Far from being the conservative he said he was, Bush has blazed a radical new path as the first American president in history who is outwardly hostile to science — dedicated, as a distinguished, bipartisan panel of educators and scientists (including forty-nine Nobel laureates) has declared, to “the distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends.â€? [full text]

If it all weren’t so dangerous and distressing, it would almost be laughable. But there’s nothing funny about this sort of ignorance. There’s nothing remotely amusing about Bush and his dopey band of ideologues revving up the ol’ Wayback Machine so as to send us careening back into the Dark Ages. Personally, my idea of getting stoned does not involve a hail of jagged rocks. Talk about a buzzkill!

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One response

  1. My father, a regulatory affairs officer for the FDA for almost 30 years, who wrote much of the book on pharmacological regs. would roll in his grave if he saw the degree of politics that now oozes through their halls.

    So much for the morning after pill, too.

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