Knock on Wood

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  • 02/27/2006

Henry Miller on Susan Wood and revisionist history …

Susan Wood laments that “our federal health agencies seem increasingly unable to operate independently and that this lack of independence compromises their mission of promoting public health and welfare.” However, Ms. Wood is a fifteen-year veteran of the federal government, which makes one wonder where she spent the 1990’s.

Although there is no question that many of the Bush administration’s science-related appointments and its record leave much to be desired — witness the litmus tests for appointees to science-related positions, distortion of information to consumers about health and safety issues, antagonism toward embryonic stem cell research, and the FDA’s apparently politically motivated decision not to permit over-the-counter sales of the Plan B morning-after contraceptive — the Clinton administration’s blatant perversion of science was even more pervasive and egregious.

As President Bill Clinton’s science and technology czar, Al Gore was entrusted with choosing many top appointees to regulatory agencies, thereby obtaining the leverage to politicize the administration’s policies and decisions. There was no room for dissension or respect for data-driven policy in the Clinton administration, no participation in the marketplace of ideas unless you were a true believer and toed the party line. And on many environmental and public health issues, it was a very radical party line, indeed.

As to the politicization of decision-making, I was a senior FDA official at the time and, like many of my colleagues, was appalled at the willingness of then-FDA Commissioner David Kessler to take orders from above about which products should be expedited and which delayed by regulators. For example, the agency approved a dubious female condom after being informed by the secretary of HHS that it was a “feminist product,” and that delay was not acceptable; and FDA officials went to extraordinarily lengths to look for reasons not to approve biotech-derived bovine somatotropin, a veterinary drug, because the vice-president’s office considered it to be politically incorrect.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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