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Washington Watch

Censory Perception

The Bush Administration is Being Accused – Again – Of Censoring Scientific Data It Finds Inconveniently Truthful

Administration Claims It's Just Trying to "Keep It Pithy"; Prevent Congress From Getting Bored By "All Those Words"

It's déjà vu all over again. The White House is again being accused of stifling the dissemination of climate change information. Officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget gutted the prepared testimony that Center for Disease Control head Julie Gerberding gave to a congressional panel concerning the impacts of climate change on disease and public health.

The testimony was cut in half, and references to specific effects of climate change on the spreading of disease were almost entirely removed. These specifics were only mentioned during the questioning period, thanks to lawmakers who asked the right questions.

A CDC official who was familiar with both the original and the "administration friendly" versions of the testimony noted that it had been "eviscerated" by OMB censors.

The OMB didn't have much to say when asked to comment, but spokesman Sean Kevelighan did note in a moment of surprising frankness that OMB reviews take into consideration "whether they ... line up well with the national priorities of the administration."

Publicizing the effects of global warming on disease apparently doesn't line up with the administration's priorities.

The original draft noted that "scientific evidence supports the view that the earth's climate is changing" and that many groups are working to address climate change. It went on to state that, "despite this extensive activity, the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed. CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern."

That paragraph was not included in the administration-approved version of Gerberding's testimony.

Since the congressional hearing, Dr. Gerberding has dismissed as "ridiculous" allegations that the Bush administration censored her testimony, noting, "This is not an issue of cover up related to climate change and health."

She admitted that her written remarks had indeed been edited, but only as part of a routine process. Material removed included some program and disease information, consistent with her "less is best" approach to testimony, she said.

"I was absolutely happy with my testimony" before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, she said. "I felt confident we had a completely candid conversation."

Dr. Gerberding said she has learned during her tenure as head of the CDC that "nobody reads" prepared remarks and that what matters are oral statements made during Congressional hearings.

Of course, if Dr. Gerberding was happy with her testimony and didn't feel it necessary to "read prepared remarks", then why did she originally present a 12-page version of her testimony to the OMB for review? If she truly believed "less is best" when it came to testimony, then why didn’t she edit her testimony down before she took it to Washington?

Perhaps Dr. Gerberding felt the OMB censors didn’t have enough to do and wanted to give them some "busy work". However, based on testimony from government scientists who have been consistently muzzled over the last seven years, one can clearly see this is not the case.