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September 15, 2005

The Republican War on Science

Chris Mooney is everywhere. The Daily Show, Fresh Air, the papers, the internet...and everywhere he goes, his hosts say the same thing:

Buy his book.

And guess what I'm going to say?

Buy his book.

Bunches of other bloggers have reviewed it, so I'm not going to spend too much time recapping the basics, but in short, The Republican War on Science is about the right's multipronged effort to devalue, contradict, and drown out scientific evidence that discredits their agenda. And since their agenda has become wholly business-oriented and/or religiously motivated, Republicans have had too start waging war against empiricism a lot.

That bit about business is important because one neat coup the GOP has achieved is getting the Christian Right to yell so loud that the demands Business are often near-inaudible. Thus, we're focused on religious abuses and socially conservative policies when the really damaging stuff is being perpetrated by industry. A good example is the Supreme Court bait-and-switch, where we all sat anxiously awaiting a caveman like Luttig, only to get a smiling, genial, tool of corporations in Roberts. And its repeated across the board -- theocrats make the noise, plutocrats get the action. So while a thorough education based on Biblical principles should be fought tooth-and-nail, creationism's inclusion in certain classrooms is no more, and maybe quite a bit less, damaging than the toxins being belched into the air, the funds being poured into Star Wars and the global warming evidence being suppressed. What's worse, or at least more galling, is that so much of these abuses are in the name of "Sound Science", a term which, as Chris documents, was invented by Big Tobacco. Science, generally speaking, is sound, otherwise it isn't science.

But the overriding point that the book settles into is probably the most important. Republicans, on every front and at every opportunity, have worked to destroy the prestige of experts and assault the legitimacy of evidence. And no group can do that over a long period of time, on a multitude of issues, and remain personally unaffected. They can't fight experts in the electoral arena and then respect them when its time to govern. And they haven't.

One place it came out, I think, is Katrina. If your attitude is that expertise is secondary to politics, appointing a campaign crony to head FEMA is a perfectly reasonable expression of that worldview. And if you tend to ignore most career professionals, paying little attention to the Army Corps. of Engineers and the disaster-prediction specialists in the government is business-as-usual. So those hapless agencies saw their requests and warnings subordinated to the overall political goals of the Administration, and, now sitting low on the Administration's ideological agenda, their funding was cut and their urgency unheeded.

That's not to say many folks were catching fire over the prospect of a New Orleans hurricane. But some, both within FEMA and in the journalistic community (Chris Mooney included), were. And if the Bush administration had a real respect for expertise and a serious commitment to at least checking into the alarms set off by specialists, we could've been better prepared. But they don't and we weren't. And if we don't take Chris's book seriously, global warming, peak oil, pollution, and a host of others are going to punish us for the oversight.

Again.

September 15, 2005 in Books | Permalink

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» Oh yeah? Well, take this... from QandO
A lot of Democrats are touting a new Chris Mooney book, "The Republican War on Science". I'm sympathetic to Mooney's points葉hough I also think some of the problem stems from what [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 16, 2005 1:42:01 PM

Comments

I haven't read Mooney's book. I may pick it up however.

I think though that one could probably write just as convincing a book entitled Democrats War on Science. I don't think that many politically motivated people are hesitant to debunk good science, or rely on bad science, if it support their pre-concieved political notions.

At the very least, they are probably willing to accept blindly anything that seems to support their view and dismissive of things that seem to be against it.

I find the broad contention that business is oppossed to science to be pretty laughable. Is DuPont, Boeing or Pfizer oppossed to science? Hardly, they depend on it. They may, at times, oppose certain scienctific conclusiions but certainly not all.

My understanding, is that hard scientists as a group tend to be more conservative then the general populace, although I can't remember where I saw that. Certainly I think it fair to conclude that they are more conservative than the members of the soft science community (although that may be like stating that they are dryer than water.)

I also think that your assertion that Hurrican Katrina was disasterous because Republicans didn't believe in science to be pretty foolish. New Orleans has be crying out for better levees for years, and have never recieved all the funding that they wanted. In addition, the levees that failed were suppossedly 'completed' and not marked for improvement or thought to be in need of repair.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Sep 15, 2005 5:15:17 PM

They may, at times, oppose certain scienctific conclusiions but certainly not all.

Yes, and quite often for fiduciary reasons.

Posted by: TJ | Sep 15, 2005 5:41:19 PM

"I think though that one could probably write just as convincing a book entitled Democrats War on Science."

No Dave, I don't think you could. And that no Republican did it during the Clinton-era strikes me as fair confirmation of it. And that no large communities of scientists banded together to release statements decrying Clinton's misuse of data is even more. DuPont uses plenty of science, so do oil refiners. But when it comes to regulation, they attack hostile science. And under the Bush administration, they've been winning, not on the merits, but on the contributions.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 15, 2005 6:13:06 PM

The Republicans' efforts to sling mud at evolution and global warming research are well documented. Mooney writes about this, but what he really wants to sound the alarm about is the Republicans' anti-science on behalf of corporate interests to the detriment of public safety. That is the really scary, eye opening stuff in his book. He acknowledges that science abuses have occurred in many administrations, but he argues (and documents very well) that the current administration has waged an unprecedented war on the scientific community so that preferred companies can operate irresponsibly, dump poison into the environment and produce unsafe medicine and food without fear of retribution. That is the main point of his work. Yes read it, it is important stuff.

Posted by: sprocket | Sep 15, 2005 6:56:06 PM

"And if we don't take Chris's book seriously, global warming, peak oil, pollution, and a host of others are going to punish us for the oversight."

Heck, you know me, without reading I will believe it is much worse than Chris could ever tell me. In fact I am pretty sure I do. I believe a sizable portion of Americans literally want to move to pre-Enlightenment ways of thinking. I could go on.

What do we do about it? Short-term? and long term?

If we are in the midst of an epistemological war, it will not be won at the ballot box, for one or two elections will not end it, and it will not be won without naming the enemy as enemy. And it will not be won if the remnants retain some legitimacy.

Science, empiricism, pragmatism, consequentialism

Liberalism

must rule, and rule absolutely. There can be only one.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 15, 2005 8:52:36 PM

My understanding, is that hard scientists as a group tend to be more conservative then the general populace,

Yes, in the sense that they, as most other white-collar professionals, support free trade, are sympathetic to SS privatization, and aren't big advocates of the right to unionize when it comes to their universities' staff and graduate students. That puts them in the same category as other white-collar professionals such as journalists, lawyers, and teachers. Basically, they're Bill Clinton/Howard Dean Democrats. If you're willing to concede that such stances are "more conservative than the general populace," then we can agreed.

Of course, they think that creationism is a joke, accept that human-caused global climate change is for real, and don't have the same hangups about FDA-approved drugs like Plan B that seems to abound amongst the hacks of the Bush administration.

Posted by: Constantine | Sep 15, 2005 9:05:28 PM

Ok. Reboot. I doubt that Chris takes this seriously enough. The question is whether a pluralistic society can withstand a large portion of its population being anti-pluralistic.

And however they are practiced, in theory two of the major religions in the west are eliminationist. In their founding documents. They disregard those commandments at the cost of cognitive dissonance and irrelevance. They are also in theory non-rational, non-scientific. Water-into-wine can only be believed, disbelieved, or ignored and all three carry epistemological consequences.

Religion has become superfluous when its existential demand is centrality. It will not co-exist with liberal pluralism any longer. Look at the war, and pick a side, knowing only one will survive.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 15, 2005 9:07:22 PM

Bob, you're probably right, and we're probably fucked.

Posted by: Matt_C | Sep 15, 2005 9:33:13 PM

"My understanding, is that hard scientists as a group tend to be more conservative then the general populace, although I can't remember where I saw that. Certainly I think it fair to conclude that they are more conservative than the members of the soft science community (although that may be like stating that they are dryer than water.)"

This reminds me when TCS spouted their random "I don't have the evidence to back this buy I think the smart graduate students all go to businesses and the ones who can't cut it stay in academia". Conservative pundits spout off random sociological hypotheses about what smart people believe or who, without even trying to find evidence to support that. Of course, if a liberal actually quoted some statistics about Professors, PhD's, or research directors tending to believe something, it would be dismissed as irrelevant and probably just ralted to the left-wing bias in all colleges.

No, "hard scientists" are not more conservative. They're more intellectual, more anti-war, less likely to believe in God, and support more national funding for education and research. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm

Is it that hard to just do a google search of "scientists" "poll" and whatever issue you can think of?

Posted by: Tony Vila | Sep 15, 2005 10:42:35 PM

i've known a lot of physicists and engineers, and yeah they were conservative - but old school conservative. they don't like government spending for poverty programs. they support the military. they're anti-communist. they like low taxes.

what they aren't, are card-carrying Party members. they like facts, they respect facts. that is not correct DearLeader thought.

Posted by: tatere | Sep 15, 2005 11:50:43 PM

Mooney dropped the ball on The Daily Show. Jon, as is his wont, trotted out the old Equivalency Gambit, asking "Yeah, but haven't Democrats and Democratic administrations done the same thing?" Mooney answer with a "Yes, but..." He should have said "No, Jon, they haven't. They may have tried to spin a study or two in their favor, but they absolutely have not participated in what we see the right doing: Trying to eliminate empiricism and rationalism as reference points in the political discourse."

Posted by: Toast | Sep 16, 2005 11:24:11 AM

I'm a Ph.D. student in physics (well, applied physics). I know a butt-load of scientists and engineers, pretty much all in the hard sciences- from MS and Ph.D. students to postdoctoral fellows, to faculty, young and old, to engineers (from when I was one of them)- they seem to be by far more likely to be liberal than conservative. The older ones vary more.

However, they really do value evidence and process.

Posted by: TJ | Sep 16, 2005 1:04:38 PM

That's just what I've noticed, by the way.

Posted by: TJ | Sep 16, 2005 1:34:16 PM

Let me be clear, I don''t think hard scientists are more religious than the average America. There are though many flavors of Conservatism and only one of them is religious.

Certainly a large number of chemists, physicists, engineers and biologists are employed by big business. Probably also, a larger proportion of hard scientists are upper middle class and white, than the general population. Both categories tend to tilt Republican.

A poll on evolution says nothing at all about a the general political leanings of scientists as a group.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Sep 16, 2005 2:29:35 PM

scientists overwhelmingly vote Democrat.

Posted by: praktike | Sep 16, 2005 10:18:30 PM

Don't muddy the waters with facts, praktike.

Wow. It's almost as though Justus proves the entire thrust of the blog post...

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