Editorial: Bird-brained manipulation of science by Bush administration

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Members of the Bush administration long ago revealed a troubling tendency to ignore, or alter, facts they don't like.

As demonstrated by a landmark lawsuit filed in late August against the U.S. Department of the Interior, no matter is too trivial for the disinformation machine - not even that of the marbled murrelet.

What's a murrelet, you ask? A seabird in the Pacific Northwest, known to nest in old-growth trees near the coast of Oregon. It's kind of cute, with its stubby bill and chunky midsection. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a subset of the Interior Department, considers it a threatened species, which presents a problem for logging companies. (Incidentally, one such company, Pacific Lumber, has been tinkering recently with Wikipedia's entry on murrelets.)

According to the massive lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bush administration did some tinkering of its own. This environmental organization alleges that the government tweaked an official scientific review to make it appear the birdie didn't need further federal protections.

The allegations don't end at the murrelet. In all, the CBD claims the Interior Department manipulated findings or refused to act on 55 species of plants and animals, from flying squirrels to manatees. If past is prologue, it won't be shocking if this is true. Indeed, an investigation by the Washington Post last year revealed widespread dysfunction at Interior, much of it caused by former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald, a Bush appointee.

As the Post reported, MacDonald frequently “overruled scientists' conclusions” and “mocked rank-and-file employees' recommendations.” The newspaper also cited a “long-running battle” between MacDonald and the Fish and Wildlife Service over whether to protect plants and animals from drilling and development. She has since resigned.

Though no Illinois species are specifically named in the suit, taxpayers here should still care. High-ranking Bush administration officials have been accused of everything from massaging pre-war Iraq intelligence to muzzling scientists whose findings on stem cells, sex ed and secondhand smoke didn't jibe with the White House's agenda. Mr. Murrelet & Friends are just more evidence that, when it comes to policy-making, politics and ideology have too often trumped the truth.

Peoria Journal Star