Apparently, in Austria, publicly denying reality in the face of overwhelming evidence is a criminal offense. As has been widely reported, British historian David Irving was recently sentenced in a Viennese courtroom to three years in prison for having refuted the occurrence of the Holocaust. Regardless of how one feels about Irving or the crime, such as it is, for which he has been punished, the whole matter sets an interesting precedent. Were it similarly illegal in this country to deny the existence of a major global calamity, then President Bush would be under indictment for denying the reality of global warming. (Given the Presidentâ€™s many offenses during his tenure in the White House, not the least of which is misleading the country into war, charging him with a crime for failing to give credence to global warming is admittedly akin to charging Al Capone with tax evasion. But, hey, whatever gets the job done.) As anyone who has even mildly been paying attention the last 5 years knows, Mr. Bush is about as much a devotee of science as Mr. Irving is of the Torah. In an article published in the Miami Herald last year, entitled â€œUnder President Bush, Science Takes Back Seat,â€? Fred Grimm reflected on the Bush administrationâ€™s troubling aversion to science:
Good science hasn’t exactly been a presidential priority. Federal research budgets have been cut. Scientific findings at odds with political ideology have been altered or killed by political hacks. Politicos have overruled scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries.
Some 6,000 American scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients, and 135 members of the National Academy of Sciences, have signed a petition complaining about the Bush administration’s dismissive view of science. The administration’s political appointees have denied findings by the government’s own scientists on industrial mercury pollution, arsenic levels in drinking water, emergency birth control, AIDS prevention, endangered species, abstinence-only education and, most famously, global warming.
It is also worth noting that the President appears to seriously question the theory of evolution, given his suggestion last year that intelligent design be given equal footing in Americaâ€™s science classrooms. (I half expect him to deny the laws of gravity next.) On the surface, Mr. Bushâ€™s views, like those of Mr. Irving, appear laughable and ludicrous. But, unlike the Nazi apologistâ€™s, the Presidentâ€™s views are truly dangerous, for they shape public policyâ€”one that ignores, distorts, or suppresses the scientific facts to the detriment of us all. And that, in my mind, is criminal.