Our capacity for outrage has been stretched to the outer limits by the Bush administration's brazen distortion of scientific facts. Testimony recently by former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona may shock even the president's few remaining defenders.

Top Bush officials pulled out all the stops in a shameful campaign to delay and water down a surgeon general's report detailing harm caused by second-hand cigarette smoke. On a more trivial level, they told him not to attend the Special Olympics because it is supported by the Kennedy family. He was ordered to mention President Bush three times on each page of his speeches.

Dr. Carmona, a decorated Army Special Services veteran, Arizona SWAT team leader and University of California-educated trauma surgeon, told Congress he was consistently confronted with political decisions made without any reference to underlying scientific knowledge. "I was told to stay away from those (issues) because we've already decided which way we want to go," Dr. Carmona said.

On one occasion, he was invited to sit in on a discussion of global warming, which Bush officials then summarily dismissed as a liberal plot. Dr. Carmona testified he thought to himself he had been asked to participate because "They want me to discuss the science because they obviously don't understand the science. I was never invited back."

He was told to shut up concerning stem-cell research and to not offer valuable testimony against tobacco companies in the government's own racketeering prosecution of them. And the list of travesties goes on.

Surgeons general are, in effect, the nation's doctors. They should be free to take scientifically informed positions on health-related issues free from political interference.

As Dr. Carmona observed, when you seek a physician, you don't ask whether the doctor is Republican or Democrat. You want scientific and medical competence. George W. Bush wants neither. The president has done his best to return the nation to a new Dark Age of scientific ignorance. What a curious legacy by a graduate of one of the nation's most eminent universities.

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