Clinton Says She Would Shield Science From Politics
Published: October 5, 2007
In a stinging critique of Bush administration science policy, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said yesterday that if she were elected president she would require agency directors to show they were protecting science research from “political pressure” and that she would lift federal limits on stem cell research.
Mrs. Clinton, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, also committed herself to a space-based climate research project to combat global warming and pledged to spend $50 billion on fighting climate change and finding energy alternatives to foreign oil.
In a speech laying out her campaign’s science agenda, Mrs. Clinton spoke of the need for a “robust” program of human exploration of space.
But in a telephone interview afterward, she said that in the short term she would subordinate Bush administration proposals for human exploration of the Moon and Mars to restoring cuts in aeronautics research and space-based studies of climate change and other earth science issues.
Travel to the Moon or Mars “excites people,” she said, “but I am more focused on nearer-term goals I think are achievable.”
Her remarks yesterday, at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, amounted to a spirited attack on President Bush for waging what she called a “war on science” that has allowed political appointees to shape and in some cases distort science-based federal reports.
Mrs. Clinton said she would restore the office of White House science adviser to the higher status it held in the administrations of her husband and President Bush’s father. And she said she would encourage Congress to revive its Office of Technology Assessment, an advisory group that was shut down in 1995 after Republicans in Congress withdrew its financing.
In the telephone interview after the speech, Mrs. Clinton also tacitly criticized opponents of evolution. Some of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates have said flatly that they do not believe in evolution, while other Republican contenders have said they support teaching evolution, intelligent design and creationist ideas.
“I believe in evolution, and I am shocked at some of the things that people in public life have been saying,” Mrs. Clinton said in the interview. “I believe that our founders had faith in reason and they also had faith in God, and one of our gifts from God is the ability to reason.”
“I am grateful that I have the ability to look at dinosaur bones and draw my own conclusions,” she added, saying, too, that antibiotic-resistant bacteria is evidence that “evolution is going on as we speak.”
The Clinton attack on White House science policy is not especially new; Mrs. Clinton has used the phrase “war on science” frequently on the campaign trail, and it has reliably drawn applause from Democratic audiences. She has also indicated before that she would reverse the financing restriction on stem cell research and, more broadly, would stand against politicizing science.
But in her speech and the telephone interview, she sought to lay out her agenda in what one adviser called “a contest of ideas” with her Democratic rivals, who have been increasingly delivering more policy speeches in hopes of winning voters with big ideas that counter nearly seven years of Bush administration policy.
“When science is politicized, it is worse than wrong,” she said in the interview. “It is dangerous — dangerous for our democracy.”
Moreover, she said, “it is holding us back economically,” as other countries move forward in research in areas like stem cells and alternative energy, “creating high-wage jobs.”
The Bush White House has been dogged by complaints from scientists in and out of government, including some of its own appointees, that it has ignored, contorted or suppressed work by government scientists if they contradict administration views, particularly in areas like climate.
Others complain that the administration has made science policy decisions on grounds that are not scientific. In particular, critics cite the president’s decision, in August 2001, to limit federal financing for research involving human embryonic stem cells to cell lines already in use at the time.
The research is thought to have great potential in developing treatments for a range of diseases, but opponents of abortion rights object to it, because the cells are produced through the destruction of human embryos.
“We have to be steered by values and morals,” Mrs. Clinton said yesterday, and she pointed to guidelines drawn up by the National Institutes of Health during her husband’s administration as a kind of “ethical framework” through which such work could advance.
For example, she said, the use of embryonic stem cells to create tissue whose DNA is identical to that of an ailing person, a process called therapeutic cloning, “is within the ethical framework.”
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, chided Mrs. Clinton for saying that she would take politics out of science, contending that her record is replete with political manipulations.
“Hillary Clinton says she will bring integrity to science, but on the campaign trail she manipulates basic mathematics in her attempts to explain how she will pay for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending,” Mr. Diaz said. He also noted that Mr. Bush had made federal money available for stem cell research.