Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Bush to Science: "Let's be friends"

Struggling to put his presidency in a favorable historical light, U.S. President George W. Bush has announced a dramatic shift in his attitude toward science. "Critics have accused my Administration of ignoring scientific advice and even of twisting science to suit its own political agenda," Bush said at a speech today at the National Center for Biochemical Medicine here. "Today, I say to those in the scientific community: 'Let's be friends.' "
As a gesture of reconciliation, Bush offered a $10 billion boost to the National Institutes of Health. That is a marked change from November, when he vetoed a spending bill that would have added more than $1 billion to the institute's budget, calling it fiscally irresponsible (ScienceNOW, 13 November 2007). "It turns out, the only thing that was irresponsible was my belief that scientific advances could be made on a shoestring," Bush told reporters today. The president wants some of the new money earmarked for what he is calling his "second war on cancer," a reference to the first war begun in 1971 by former President Richard Nixon. "Obviously, we didn't get the job done the first time," said Bush. "Let's finally rid our bodies of this weapon of mass destruction."
Bush also plans to relax his stem cell policy. Although he has twice blocked congressional bills that would have expanded federal research on embryonic stem cells (ScienceNOW, 20 June 2007), he said today that such vetoes were a mistake. Bush said he now regrets having placed more value on a destined-to-be-discarded embryo than on a 30-year-old mother with multiple sclerosis--not to mention Michael J. Fox. "Why wait for a new president?" said Bush. "Let's get these embryos into the hands of scientists who can use them for good."
In a final concession, Bush promised to be a better steward of the planet. "I haven't always been clear about the threat global warming poses," he said. "In retrospect, having oil industry lobbyists edit our climate reports was probably a bad idea." He also admitted that initiatives such as "Healthy Forests" and "Clear Skies" had led to excess logging and air pollution, respectively. To make amends, he has appointed former rival and Nobel laureate Al Gore to head his new conservation initiative, which calls for mandatory cuts on greenhouse gas emissions and rigorous protection for species classified as threatened or endangered. "We're calling it 'Pristine Planet,' " said Bush. "And this time we mean it."
Science proponents are overjoyed. "I never thought this day would come," says Representative Henry Waxman (D–CA), a frequent critic of the president's science agenda. "Now I can finally retire." Climate researcher Shirley Tinsdale of the National Oceanic Study Center in Gillette, Wyoming, adds that "things are certainly looking up for science." She did express some concern, however, that Bush made his announcement on 1 April, commonly known as April Fools' Day. Says Tinsdale, "I hope he's not trying to pull one over on us … again."

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