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Nobel winner says Bush is politicizing science
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Peter Agre says the Patriot Act, which is meant to protect the nation from terrorists, is discouraging foreign scientists from studying and working in the United States (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
The 2003 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry criticized President Bush on Friday for politicizing science. Minnesota native Peter Agre spoke to students and faculty at St. Olaf College on Thursday and the University of Minnesota on Friday. He is one of 25 leading scientists who are touring the country speaking about the future of science under the Bush administration.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Peter Agre spent 2003 lecturing at colleges and universities about his Nobel Prize-winning work. This year, the professor at Johns Hopkins University is spending his time travelling the country talking about politics.

Agre is one of 10 Nobel laureates who belong to Scientists and Engineers for Change. He is also one of 48 Nobel aureates who have signed a letter endorsing Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry for president. He says he hopes such lectures will help the public understand that many of the nation's leading scientists are not happy with the current administration.

"When you have that much interest on one side compared to the other side, you have to think that these are not irrational hotheads who don't know what they're doing. I think they understand science very well," he said.

Agre says his lectures are meant to spur debate among the audience. He says the Patriot Act, which is meant to protect the nation from terrorists, is discouraging foreign scientists from studying and working in the United States.

He also says he'd like to see the Bush administration spend more money on science research and should allow full federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Agre says he's concerned that the Bush administration is ignoring evidence that increased carbon emissions are causing global climate change. He says most other industrialized nations have signed a treaty that would limit such emissions.

"The Bush administration has been a disaster for the environment. They're playing Russian roulette by not signing the Kyoto Accord. If we wait until there's unequivocal proof that this is the cause of global climate change, it will be too late," he said.

Agre says he's concerned that the president is politicizing science by only appointing scientists who agree with his policies. He says such a policy limits the free and open discussion needed to move science forward. Supporters of the president disagree with those assessments.

"The is a partisan group with a political agenda. Their message has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics," said Robert Hopkins, a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington D.C. He says science funding has increased 44 percent since President Bush took office in 2001. He also says the budget for the National Institutes of Health has doubled under the president's leadership.

Hopkins says Bush is the first president to provide any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The research is important because it has the potential to create cures for a wide variety of diseases. But opponents of legalized abortion oppose the technique because scientists have to destroy an embryo to harvest the stem cells.

Hopkins says the president took a balanced approach by allowing federal money for research on stem cell lines that were created before 2001, while denying funding to create new lines.

"Under President Bush the science is advancing faster than it ever has. Over 500 shipments of eligible stem cell lines have been sent to researchers and there's 1800 additional shipments ready to be sent," according to Hopkins.

But Agre and others say the president should remove all barriers to stem cell research, which Sen. Kerry has said he would do if elected. Agre and the other members of the group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, say they will continue touring the country until election day.

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