2.01.2010

QUIZ: Name the Destructive Mix of Science and Politics

I'm reading a book right now that details the disastrous mix of bad science backed by a political agenda (and government funds) in a particular scientific realm. Dear readers, see if you can guess the general area of scientific research described by the following quote. I'll post the answer tomorrow.
[The release of a document/policy/recommendation/program] was the first time that any government institution (as opposed to private groups like the ___) had told Americans they could improve ___ by ___. In so doing, [the doc/policy/etc.] sparked a chain reaction of. . .advice from government agencies and the press that reverberates still. It is hard to overestimate its impact. [The doc/policy/etc.] took a grab bag of ambiguous studies and speculation, acknowledged that the claims were scientifically contentious, and then officially bestowed on one interpretation the aura of established fact.
Other groups tried to counter this politicization of science by releasing papers that questioned the conclusions, the science, and all other aspects, but they were excoriated by government agencies and a complicit press amid, among other things, claims of conflict of interest because of ties to industry. A prominent scientist who, over his career, had received "perhaps $10 million in grants from" the government, and "$250,000 from industry," and had served on government boards for years, because "he now disagreed with the [doc/policy] publicly, he was accused of being bought."
Scientists were believed to be free of conflicts if their only source of funding was a federal agency, but all . . . knew that if their research failed to support the government position on a particular subject, the funding would go instead to someone whose research did. "To be a dissenter was to be unfunded because the peer-review system rewards conformity and excludes criticism," [wrote one scientist.] The [government] expert panels that decide funding represent the orthodoxy and will tend to perceive research interpreted in a contrarian manner as unworthy of funding.
So, what area of science, industry, and politics is this concerning? Post your ideas in the comments.

3 comments:

Jason said...

I'll guess nutrition/food. And the dubious government claim I'll guess is that people can improve health by heavily cutting fat from their diet?

In nutrition today, fat is incorrectly viewed as the devil, and I'm sure government has a lot to do with this as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Pyramid suggests with its puny six ounce daily recommendation for meat.

Rational Jenn said...

Jason took my guess, so I'll go with climatewarmingglobalchange. :)

C. August said...

Thanks for playing! The answer is here.