“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” (Emphasis added) George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)
Perhaps the most egregious suppression of Science occurs when regulators and policymakers willfully silence, distort or ignore findings in fields such as Environmental Science and Health Science, effectively replacing the will of the people with the political, financial or ideological interests of another group.
Some of the most flagrant censorship of Science in United States history occurred during the administration of George W. Bush. Substantial evidence has been amassed showing that scientific integrity was frequently compromised where it served this administration’s political interests. We are likely to feel the effects of the deceptions that occured during this era for some time.
FDA approval process corrupted (2009)
The FDA approval process can be time consuming and costly. When it comes to drugs and medical devices, the process is meant to test the safety and efficacy of the product. However, in 2009 several allegations surfaced that the approval process has been contaminated by corruption and retaliation.
In October 2009, The FDA acknowledged that it succumbed to political pressure in its approval of Menaflex, a new device designed to treat a very common knee injury. The investigation into the approval decision revealed “deeply disturbing” departures from normal practice, top agency officials stated. The integrity of the review process had been compromised and scientific decisions had been improperly influenced by industry and political pressure.
The story began when ReGen Biologics Inc. applied for full approval of Menaflex in 2004. After some possible data integrity issues with its clinical trials, the company decided instead to apply for fast-track approval. Twice their application for fast track approval was rejected because it did not meet the requirement that the device because of substantial equivalence to existing devices. ReGen then looked to lawmakers from its home state to help the process along. Several New Jersey lawmakers wrote to or called the FDA, urging the FDA commissioner to review the issue and move the process forward. These lawmakers, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, received thousands of dollars in election campaign contributions from ReGen. Three top ReGen executives starting making the donations about a month after the FDA had rejected fast track approval for the device for the second time.
After some meetings, the FDA placed the matter in the hands of the FDA’s device division (as requested by ReGen). At that time some clinical trial data came out. Although ReGen touted the results as successful, several FDA scientists found the opposite after examining the data themselves. ReGen again applied for fast-track approval but FDA scientists were recommending issuing a third rejection letter. Instead, however, a special panel of outside doctors was appointed to decide whether Menaflex should get the fast-track approval. This was unusual. Some also claim that the FDA took the further step of considering ReGen recommendations for who should be on the panel. Even once formed, the practices of the panel continued to be unusual. FDA reviewers who had previously criticized Menaflex did not speak at the panel – a break from usual practice. Also, panel members were only given six days to review the hundreds of pages of information. Afterwards, despite the opinions of several key FDA scientists, Menaflex finally received fast-track approval.
A group of unnamed FDA staff scientists wrote to Congress and President Obama about the Menaflex approval asking that the top FDA medical-device regulators be removed from office. Several commentators have asserted that the Menaflex approval demonstrated the agency’s culture of deference to companies. The approval process, specifically the fast-track approval process, has since come under investigation. The GAO has also recently commented on the fast-track approval process, saying the FDA is too quick to allow this type of approval.
Suppression of medical research results by the US Army (2008)
The public has a right to know non-classified, scientific information generated by government researchers. AN epinews article discusses the Army’s policy for conducting pre-publication review of medical data. Read NCAC's statement on this policy here.
The EPA silences expert under pressure from chemical industry lobbyists (2008)
Award winning toxicologist, Dr. Deborah Rice, was dismissed from her position as the chair of an EPA assembled peer review panel charged with evaluating the safety of the fire retardant, Deca. The EPA argued its decision to dismiss Rice was justified because she had spoken out about the potential health risks of Deca in the past. This, according to the EPA, was "a potential conflict of interest.” However, the EPA routinely employs scientists with significant ties to industry on such peer review panels.
Surgeon General’s speech stifled (2007)
Dr. Richard Carmona, the U.S. Surgeon General (2002-2006), reported to a House of Representatives committee that Bush administration political appointees had repeatedly censored his speeches and prevented him from releasing reports on controversial issues, including stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education, secondhand smoke, and mental health.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conceals toxic risks (2007)
Internal documents show that FEMA adopted a policy of willful ignorance regarding potentially dangerous levels of Formaldehyde in the trailers it provided for displaced survivors of Hurricane Katrina. FEMA, in concert with other agencies, used a testing procedure that did not reflect the actual use conditions of the trailers and was therefore incapable of determining whether formaldehyde exposure levels truly posed a danger to trailer residents. Furthermore, they provided trailer residents with a bare minimum of information about potential dangers. House Committee on Oversight and Government member, Virginia Rep. Tom Davis summarized the FEMA documents as follows: "Recently discovered documents make it appear FEMA's primary concerns were legal liability and public relations, not human health and safety.”