Rastetter v. Schnoor (Elections Matter)

Student Rally at ISU

Student Rally at ISU

The kerfuffle over the e-mail from the Iowa Board of Regents President Pro Tempore Bruce Rastetter to University of Iowa President Sally Mason regarding statements Professor Jerry Schnoor made about water used in production of ethanol immediately went to DEFCON 2. Like many media feeding frenzies, the energy may be misguided.

Rastetter wrote Mason, “the industry would appreciate being able to provide factual information so this professor isn’t uninformed; is there a way to accomplish that, thanks Bruce.”

The Daily Iowan quoted Senator Brian Quirmbach’s response, “the board of regents is supposed to be a buffer against political interference in academic freedom, not the vehicle for it. What is even more important, he seems to be using his position on the board of regents to work through the power structure. If I could imagine myself in the situation, and the president of the university and a member of the board of regents wants to put pressure on my research— that’s a lot of pressure and that’s inappropriate.”

There are news stories where participants and others have weighed in here, here, here and here.

I don’t know Professor Schnoor, but have heard him speak and know some of his work. He doesn’t just make stuff up. There was likely a better way for one of the regents to approach him, but in a world of peer-reviewed science, to which Schnoor is a party, whatever point the biofuels industry might want to make about the matter would be subject to the same process of peer review. One hopes that truth will out through a peer reviewed scientific approach, regardless of the abrasiveness of Mr. Rastetter.

There are more egregious examples of the Republican war on science than the Rastetter-Mason exchange, if it is serious enough to merit such appellation.

When I met Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at a lecture in Ohio, she was asked about the redaction of her testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing Oct. 23, 2007. She explained the process by which White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality redacted, or censored her prepared remarks. Click here for a comparison between the original and redacted versions. The Rastetter e-mail is an Iowa-lite version of infringement on academic freedom, and definitely not censorship as Dr. Gerberding experienced. Rastetter was not “Iowa nice.”

What is the lesson to be learned? Elections matter. It is no surprise governor Terry Branstad appointed Bruce Rastetter to the board of regents. While some have called for Rastetter’s resignation, don’t look for it to happen under Branstad. The remedy for Rastetter and his ilk is electing a governor who does not put industry insiders on the board of regents and other appointed positions. The rest of the kerfuffle? Save the noise for something that matters more.

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