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Shielding science from politics

February 27, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 9

Congress must protect the science agencies that it created from manipulation and censorship by high-level executive branch officials, said former FDA official Susan Wood at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in St. Louis. "That's Congress' role, but we have not been able to get Congress to tackle this in any kind of substantive way," she added in a session organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists to discuss ways the scientific community can defend against political interference. Wood resigned as FDA's director of the Office of Women's Health last August over controversy regarding reproductive health issues. She said the agency's "credibility has been seriously damaged," and scientific staff are "demoralized" and looking for jobs "where their work can be respected and acted upon rather than ignored." Rita Colwell, former NSF director, introduced the session. Although Colwell said she had not received political pressure from either former president Bill Clinton or President George W. Bush during her six-year term as director, she did confirm the "disturbing frequency" with which issues surrounding science in government agencies now occur. Peer review and public debate are critical, she added.


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