Friday, June 10 , 2005
1. AIN’T MISBEHAVIN: QUESTIONABLE SURVEY OF QUESTIONABLE RESEARCH
The media loved the story. The first I heard of it was an e-mail from an evangelical Christian that began: “This is what happens when you take moral certainty out of the picture.” Something called the Health Partners Research Foundation surveyed several thousand scientists funded by NIH. Overall, one-third of the respondents admitted engaging in at least one sort of misbehavior in the last three years. Does that mean the chances are one in three that the numbers in the study were fudged? Any scientific misconduct is too much, of course, but they’re not just talking about research misconduct as defined by the Office of Science and Technology Policy: “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism.” They also include stuff like, “inadequate record keeping,” and “overlooking the use of flawed data by others.” Misbehavior, of course, is not limited to scientists. Consider the next item.
2. CREATIVE EDITING: WHITE HOUSE AIDE ADJUSTS SCIENTIFIC CONTENT.
A lawyer with no scientific training, Phil Cooney was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute fighting greenhouse-gas restrictions before moving to the White House. The chief of staff to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Cooney was assigned to edit government climate reports to make them more supportive of Administration policy. According to the New York Times, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the President’s science advisor, John Marburger III, also approved the reports.
3. CONSTITUTION: LOUISIANA SCHOOL DISTRICT DOESN’T HAVE A PRAYER.
In 1994, the Tangipahoa Parish school board voted to require teachers to read students an it’s-only-a-theory disclaimer before they studied the theory of evolution in science class. In 1997, a Federal District Court found the disclaimer violated the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment. The School Board appealed the case, and lost again. So they appealed to the Supreme Court, and struck out for good. Meanwhile, the courts repeatedly told the Board to put a stop to prayers at school functions, including school board meetings. But by now the board had a taste for losing, and appealing that decision. Experts say this could also end up in the Supreme Court. Encouraged by the political climate, the Board has outside financial help from the Alliance Defense Fund, a powerful Christian legal group.
4. MISSILE DEFENSE: THERE HAVE BEEN NO ATTACKS, IS IT WORKING?
When we last visited the Presidents missile defense system, there had been a series of flops (WN 17 Dec 04). An outside panel examining the failures has just issued its final report. In an effort to meet the end-of-2004 deadline imposed by the President, it concluded, officials put schedule ahead of performance. “Manage quality first and then schedule,” the panel advised. But a missile defense no longer seems urgent.