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An open letter to the Future President

June 26, 2008 on 2:05 am | In Politics |

Whether it’s Obama, McCain, or somebody else, I think this is a necessary thing for science literacy everywhere. I’m not a big science policy person (my friend Brian is more into that), but this is important enough that I feel the need to say something. A copy of this letter is being sent to both the Obama and McCain camps:

To the future President of the United States:

I have been paying close attention to your presidential campaign, and I look forward to the reshaping of our nation that will begin in 2009 under your leadership. In particular, I am anticipating the creation of a more informed, educated society, where the nation is capable of making the best decisions possible on any given issue.

And yet, it is impossible for our people to be capable of that without the ability to distinguish valid information from invalid pseudoscience. It is for this reason that I recommend that when you take office, one of your first acts should be to install, as part of the president’s cabinet, a Presidential Science Advisor. It should be a person of science; that is, someone who has experience as a scientist, and is capable of gathering the relevant scientific information regarding a policy issue and presenting you with the information needed to both inform the public and also to make the best decision to ensure the health and welfare of the nation.

This is an extraordinarily difficult task, and although I find your positions on the issues to be far more scientifically accurate than the current administration’s, there are a number of issues where I have noticed that you do not appear to have the proper scientific information. One prominent issue is the connection between vaccines and autism. Although there is much public buzz surrounding this issue, the scientific facts show that there is no connection between rates of autism and vaccinations. However, it is unclear as to what exactly causes autism, and this is an important area to further investigate. It is not acceptable, for the public health and welfare of Americans, to allow the proliferation of the notion that it is in a parent’s best interest to not vaccinate their children. Contrariwise, there have been more cases of the measles reported to the CDC this year than any other year in this decade in the United States; measles had been officially eliminated from the United States in 2002, and its return coincides with the choice to not vaccinate children for personal or religious beliefs.

I would strongly recommend that you expand the powers of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and to utilize the full power of the resources available to you to help create the informed, educated, healthy nation we all want to live in. I will be happy to do anything in my power to assist you in this endeavor.


Ethan R. Siegel, Ph.D.


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  1. Ethan,

    Your readers might also be interested in knowing about Science Debate 2008, which is co-sponsored by several organizations such as the AAAS, NAS, NAE, and IM. The goal of this high profile effort is to have a real debate between the Presidential candidates in science issues, including at least one dedicated debate to solely those topics.

    An organization that I am proud to call myself a member for many years is the Union of Concerned Scientists. Among other things, a major focus of their work is protecting scientific integrity in light of the numerous political interferences imposed by the Bush Administration in agencies like the EPA and NASA. They even have a whole effort devoted specifically to ensuring scientific integrity in the Presidential Election.

    An excellent book on these types of issues is NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen’s 2007 book Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming. There is also a Discovery Channel or TLC special on the same subject. Another book (which I haven’t read) on this subject is Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration by Seth Shulman, who wrote the book at the behest of the Union of Concerned Scientists. As a government scientist myself, I can attest to some first-hand censorship on the issue of global warming, and I don’t even work in that field.

    By the way, the President’s science advisor is the Dr. John H. Marburger, the director of the Office of Science & Technology Policy. He’s not a Cabinet member like you proposed, but at least the President in theory has a science advisor. If you browse through the OSTP’s reports from the past 7 years, you’ll see that most are very rational and reasonable from a science standpoint. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration chooses not to listen to its own science advisors when forming its policies most of the time.


    Comment by brian — June 26, 2008 #

  2. As a new parent, I’ve had to tackle the vaccine issue myself and would like to offer my point of view. Ethan is partially correct that the scientific community generally regards the link between autism and mercury in vaccine shots as somewhat tenuous. However, a recent study has shown a statistical relationship between them and suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors lead to increased autism risk, especially proximity to mercury sources.

    Although mercury was removed from virtually all vaccinations by 2002, there are still grave concerns regarding the current vaccination schedule recommended for infants in the US. 30 years ago, infants received a total of 5 shots over the course of the first few years of life, but today the number is 22. Mercury levels are not the only concern. Another major concern is aluminum levels, which are not restricted. The growing consensus among “enlightened” physicians is to follow a modified vaccination schedule that spreads out the shots over more time. Instead of getting, say, 3 per quarterly visit to the doctor, new recommendations are to go once per month and get 1 shot each time. It results in more shots overall (since the vaccines have to be in separate rather than combined shots), but it results in fewer large spikes of potentially toxic metals in the body. This isn’t officially accepted by all physicians yet, but it is argued for quite convincingly in Dr. Sear’s book The Vaccine Book.

    When my son was born, we opted not to have the Hepatitis B shot since it is completely unnecessary unless you have specific risk factors for infection. We’ve also been spreading out shots a little more than the official schedule suggests.

    Comment by brian — June 26, 2008 #

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