"Truth is taking a beating," Sen. Edward Kennedy warned in a forceful attack on the science policy of the Bush administration today in his delivery of the 2007 Karl Taylor Compton Lecture, held in the Stata Center's Kirsch Auditorium.
Kennedy accused the administration of "skewed thinking" that has "spread like a cancer â€¦ infesting every policy decision they make."
He continued: "Tragically--and dangerously--the administration has developed a pattern and practice of ignoring or manipulating facts to achieve a desired political result. But no matter how hard they try to create their own pseudo-science and pseudo-reality, in the long run, they will not succeed. The reality-based community is alive and well. And we're fighting back."
Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, and the second-longest-serving member of the Senate, commended MIT's role, over a century and a half, of contributing to public policy informed by science. William Barton Rogers and the other founders of the Institute "believed in what they called 'the happy influence of scientific culture on the industry and civilization of nations,'" he said.
Among the issues he touched on:
Stem cell research: Calling the administration's policy "flawed, and frankly, nonsensical," he accused the administration of paying "lip service" to the religious concerns of those who oppose such research without truly reflecting them. He added that the lack of federally funded research was putting the United States at a "serious competitive disadvantage."
Contraception: "The White House allowed a narrow minority in its right-wing base to drown out" the scientific consensus on the safety of the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B, which was not finally approved for over-the-counter sales until August 2006.
Global warming: "With the backing of its cronies in the oil and gas industry, the administration decided to create its own reality," he said. The recent Supreme Court ruling rejecting the administration's arguments for failing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions "is by no means the end of the story, but it is an enormous victory."
Kennedy also called for a return to "those good old days" when people like the founders of MIT "understood that the never-ending effort to form a more perfect union would always require a restless spirit that asks new questions and is not afraid of the answers."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 25, 2007 (download PDF).