"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Ugly Art of Manipulatiing Science

In the world of educational research, things changed when the Bushies came to town. Research questions whose answers could not be quantified by analyzing standardized test scores soon had less than a snowball's chance of rounding up federal research funding.

The education-as-social control fanatics and the educational testing industry leeches rose to new hegemonic heights, and to make sure their new postion was fortified, they pushed through an oppressive miseducative ideology that, 1) insisted on scientific evidence to support all educational decisions, 2) rewrote the definition of what could be defined as "scientific," and 3) used the new definition to devise studies that reinforced the conclusions of the oppressive ideology that had just redefined "scienfic." If no studies could could be cooked up to support some preferred component of the right-wing agenda, then the requirement for "scientifically-based" evidence was simply ignored (the corporate tutoring scam and the dumbing down of teacher preparation are just two examples).

Those in the media and the general public who did understand what had just happened didn't care that it had happened, and education academics limited their protests to writing tepid papers that they published in obscure journals or read to one another at annual meetings.

Outside the easily-controlled world of K-12 education, however, real science continued, generating findings that had all sorts of potential repercussions for the conservative ideological agenda. So instead of rewriting the books on how the science could be done, which was too big of a task even for the fundamentalist zealots who run the White House, they simply put gag orders on public servants such as the Surgeon General, so that the real science that challenged the official party propaganda was neglected, marginalized, or suppressed. Some clips from the NY Times:

WASHINGTON, July 10 — Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.

“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.

The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it.

When asked after the hearing if that “prominent family” was the Kennedys, Dr. Carmona responded, “You said it. I didn’t.”

In response to lawmakers’ questions, Dr. Carmona refused to name specific people in the administration who had instructed him to put political considerations over scientific ones. He said, however, that they included assistant secretaries of health and human services as well as top political appointees outside the department of health.

Dr. Carmona did offer to provide the names to the committee in a private meeting.

. . . .

Dr. Carmona is one of a growing list of present and former administration officials to charge that politics often trumped science within what had previously been largely nonpartisan government health and scientific agencies.

. . . .

On issue after issue, Dr. Carmona said, the administration made decisions about important public health issues based solely on political considerations, not scientific ones.

“I was told to stay away from those because we’ve already decided which way we want to go,” Dr. Carmona said.

He described attending a meeting of top officials in which the subject of global warming was discussed. The officials concluded that global warming was a liberal cause and dismissed it, he said.

“And I said to myself, ‘I realize why I’ve been invited. They want me to discuss the science because they obviously don’t understand the science,’ ” he said. “I was never invited back.”

. . . .

Dr. Carmona described being invited to testify at the government’s nine-month racketeering trial of the tobacco industry that ended in 2005. He said top administration officials discouraged him from testifying while simultaneously telling the lead government lawyer in the case that he was not competent to testify. Dr. Carmona testified anyway.

Sharon Y. Eubanks, director of the Justice Department’s tobacco litigation team, was in the audience during Dr. Carmona’s testimony.

“What he said is all correct,” she said. “He was one of the most powerful witnesses. His testimony was very important.”

Dr. Carmona said that he felt that the duty of the surgeon general, often called the “nation’s doctor,” was to tackle many of the nation’s most controversial health topics and to issue balanced reports about the studies underlying them.

When stem cells became a focus of debate, Dr. Carmona said he proposed that his office offer guidance “so that we can have, if you will, informed consent.”

“I was told to stand down and not speak about it,” he said. “It was removed from my speeches.”

The Bush administration rejected the advice of many top scientists on this subject, including that of the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni.

Similarly, Dr. Carmona wanted to address the controversial topic of sexual education, he said. Scientific studies suggest that the most effective approach includes a discussion of contraceptives.

“However there was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to preach abstinence only, but I felt that was scientifically incorrect,” he said.

Dr. Carmona said drafts of surgeon general reports on global health and prison health were still being debated by the administration. The global health report was never approved, Dr. Carmona said, because he refused to sprinkle the report with glowing references to the efforts of the Bush administration.

“The correctional health care report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” he said. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.”

Because the administration does not want to spend more money on prisoners’ health care, the report has been delayed, Dr. Carmona said.

“For us, the science was pretty easy,” he said. “These people go back into the community and take diseases with them.” He added, “This is not about the crime. It’s about protecting the public.”

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