Scientists and Engineers for Change (SEC) announced its organizational launch on September 27, 2004, stating that it was composed of individuals “concerned by mounting evidence that scientific integrity has been compromised and scientific priorities shortchanged by the Bush Administration.” SEC’s organizational mission was “to ensure that public policy issues affected by science and technology are widely discussed, and to mobilize the nation’s scientists and engineers to participate in the political process.” But once established, SEC’s first major effort was to orchestrate a national speaking tour where its members would spread the anti-Bush message prior to that year’s November elections.
At SEC’s initial press conference, founding member Vint Cerf warned that because of the Bush administration’s alleged refusal to adequately finance scientific research, the U.S. was in danger of losing its status as the world’s leader in innovation and invention. Cerf’s proposed remedy for this problem was the election of Democrat John Kerry, who would, according to Cerf, “fulfill his commitment” to funding the sciences. SEC boasted that its founding members included ten Nobel Prize winners; several of these were among 48 Nobel laureates who had signed a July 2004 letter supporting Kerry’s candidacy.
From the outset, a chief point of dispute between SEC and the Bush administration was the President’s questions about the morality and scientific efficacy of stem-cell research. Bush policy limited federal funding for stem-cell research to $100 million per year, and restricted the research itself to embryos that already existed in laboratories — rather than endorse the production of additional embryos for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells. Notably, the Bush administration had already provided considerable funding for the promising field of adult stem-cell research.
SEC founding member Douglas Osheroff charges that the Bush administration abuses, ignores, and misrepresents the science of climate change. “The administration tends to pick and choose what it’s willing to listen to,” says Osheroff. According to SEC co-founder Dudley Herschbach, the Bush administration has “put a political clamp” on scientific research concerning global warming with its “Soviet-style” handling of science policy. As SEC founding member Peter Agre put it, “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.
SEC does not limit its criticisms of the Bush administration solely to matters of science. In Peter Agre’s estimation, the anti-terrorism legislation known as the Patriot Act discourages — because of its alleged assaults on civil liberties and privacy — foreign scientists from choosing to study and work in the United States.
Princeton University physics professor William Happer, a member of the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Panel, told The Scientist in 2004 that the warnings and accusations of SEC scientists were both overstated and out of context. Robert Hopkins, a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC, says that SEC “is a partisan group with a political agenda. Their message has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics.”