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June 08, 2005

Hating on the Lab

So it turns out that the Bush administration has been putting pen to paper on government climate reports, letting a former oil industry lobbyist with a degree in economics and no scientific training fuzz up warnings on global warming by changing the language, excising passages, and tweaking the emphasis.  So "uncertainties" became "significant and fundamental uncertainties", something difficult to calculate becomes "extremely difficult", and the element of chance was generally blown into a metaphysical meditation on the essential unknowability of things and the fallacies of trusting what you read.  Brilliant.

One thing that's worth remembering is that the war on science isn't a Bush administration innovation.  Not at all, in fact.  Gingrich's 1994 revolution had its own set of ideas for recasting the role of science in regulatory law, and they, if possible, were even more sophisticated about it than the Bush administration.  Rather than going for simple Stalinistic tactics like changing language and erasing information, they tried to discredit the science itself.  Under their plan, all new regulations would have to come with a risk report, explaining how bad the problem to-be-regulated was and how certain we were that it would get to that point, thus codifying scientific uncertainty so it could be used in political fights.  Next up, all science had to be objectively verifiable and reproducible by outside scientists, meaning industry experts.  After that, any large-scale regulation needed to face a panel composed of industry reps and private scientists, and any and all questions they raised had to be answered and put to rest.  Lastly, courts would be empowered to hold hearings on the science underlying the regulations and throw out the law if they deemed the science inadequate.  This meant that industry could get the best lawyer and pseudoscientists into a courtroom, hoodwink a judge not trained in the subject, and get him to throw out the offending regulation.

If this had passed, it would've meant the end of regulation in America.  Luckily, Clinton blocked it and instituted his own, more reasonable reforms.  The Bush administration, for their part, hasn't had the interest in pursuing this strategy in all its glorious complexity, so they've simply denied that some evidence exists, tried to discredit certain theories, and rewritten reports that contained politically unhelpful conclusions.  It's bad, but it's childish compared to the strategies from a decade ago.  Nice to see, though, that in a party where fiscal restraint has morphed into profligacy, isolationism has become adventurism, small government has become unchecked growth, and libertarian values have been ground under James Dobson's heel, at least the Republican distaste for science has remained constant. 

June 8, 2005 in Republicans | Permalink

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Comments

Note that it's exactly the same MO as the people pushing ID - if there's any uncertainty over any detail, the whole theory is wrong. Even if it's uncertainty within a range that supports the theory. Obviously, the connection isn't coincidental.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Jun 8, 2005 1:57:59 PM

Seems to be Newt's proposals were at least attempts to cast a doubtful eye on the cost/benefit ratio of the regulatory process. Bush's techniques have none of that spirit and are simply dishonest.

Posted by: Horatio | Jun 8, 2005 3:01:26 PM

The Ministry of Truth is alive and well in the White House. Subtlety has never been Bush admin's strong point. They prefer tried and true "big lie" method. We don't need no stinking science, we have Dobson to tell us what is true.

Posted by: Sonny | Jun 8, 2005 9:04:40 PM

Ezra - if you're not familiar with it, you should check out Chris Mooney's blog - chriscmooney.com/blog. He's got a book coming out in August titled "The Republican War on Science."

Posted by: Dave M | Jun 9, 2005 10:05:41 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 16, 2007 10:25:10 PM

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