September 30, 2004

Scientists Begin a Campaign to Oppose President's Policies

New York Times 9/28/04


While Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and other rock stars sing on a "Vote for Change" concert tour, another disgruntled group - this one of scientists - will crisscross the well-worn landscape of battleground states over the next month, giving lectures that will argue that the Bush administration has ignored and misused science.

The group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, another addition to the flood of so-called 527 advocacy groups that have filled this year's election discourse, announced its existence and plans yesterday in a telephone news conference. At least 25 scientists will give talks in 10 contested states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Among the headlining lecturers are 10 Nobel Prize winners, including Dr. Douglas D. Osheroff, a professor of physics at Stanford; Dr. Peter C. Agre, a professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins; and Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health.

Compared with more prominent 527's, like MoveOn PAC and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the scientists' group will operate on a modest budget of $100,000, which will mainly pay for lecturers' travel expenses.

The group has no direct ties to the campaign of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, but 9 members were among 48 Nobel laureates who signed a June 21 letter endorsing Mr. Kerry. Several of the scientists have also signed a statement from the Union of Concerned Scientists that accuses the Bush administration of manipulating scientific findings to support its policies. The union opposes the administration on numerous issues, including the environment and energy.

At the news conference, Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, one of the architects of the Internet in the 1960's and 1970's and current chairman of Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said, "Science counts, and it has not counted sufficiently in this administration."

Dr. Cerf said he was a registered Republican, but that he joined the group "in the hope that we bring debate, science and technology, into the political debate so that the electorate understands the importance that it has in our society."

Dr. Cerf said the United States was "at risk of losing the edge" in technology because the Bush administration was cutting basic research budgets at the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Robert Hopkins, a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, disputed that opinion. "I don't know where their accounting is coming from," Mr. Hopkins said. "The president has been a strong and generous supporter of science, increasing federal R&D budgets 44 percent to a record $132 billion."

The administration's policies on energy and global warming prompted Dr. Osheroff to take part. "I am not a Democrat and I have never played a significant role in politics," he said. "We must begin to address climate change now. To do so, we must have an administration that listens to the scientific community, not one that manipulates and minimizes scientific input."

Dr. Osheroff, who is scheduled to give the first lecture tonight at the University of Oregon, said he did not plan to explicitly urge his audience to vote for Mr. Kerry.

"At the end of my talk,'' he said, "I think people hopefully will be convinced that this administration is not doing an adequate job, that they're just not listening to scientists on these issues, that it's basically business as usual. I think people can decide how important that issue is, by themselves."

Dr. Cerf interjected: "Well, actually, Doug, let's be honest about this. The name of this group is Scientists and Engineers for Change. Now, what do you imagine we want to change?"

Posted by jmellicant at September 30, 2004 05:20 PM