Lots of stuff about the intersection of science and politics in the US today—here are three things to read over breakfast.
Bruce Sterling suggests that American science is experiencing creeping Lysenkoism, and reports that “the Bush administration has systematically manipulated scientific inquiry into climate change, forest management, lead and mercury contamination, and a host of other issues.” He predicts a rather grim end for our science and science policy.
Before long, the damage will spread beyond our borders. International scientific bodies will treat American scientists as pariahs. This process has already begun in bioethics, meteorology, agriculture, nuclear science, and medicine, but doubts will spread to “American science” generally.
It’s not a happy piece. Read it anyway.
Chris Mooney is surprised at the longevity of the critiques of Republican “science”: he says that “a similar pattern–ignore experts, favor ideologues–has been followed by the administration on any number of other science issues, ranging from global warming to the morning after pill,” and seems most impressed by the fact that these problems are being pointed out, over and over again. Where Sterling sees looming disaster, though, Mooney sees some hope: not everyone is blind to what the Bushites are doing, and science policy is becoming an important issue.
But now I realize something more: These questions are proof positive that those who are worried about the politics of science nurture their concern within a much broader context. These Americans are thinking: As science goes, so goes the nation. On some level, the science community has always known that. What’s new is that now, we have a heck of a lot of company.
Now we just have to get all that company motivated to campaign and vote.
Darksyde discusses an bill to protect scientific whistleblowers, people who come forward to politicized, ideological tampering with the science coming out of our premier federal research institutions, like NOAA. As he says, “Once again, the GOP preferred to ignore reality and opt for wishful thinking”: it was killed by the Republicans. The author of the bill, Rep. Brad Miller, (D-North Carolina), was online responding to comments, if you’d like to hear straight from the source.
I think Mooney is right, that the public can see the damage being done to our reputation and the erosion of America’s science and engineering skill set, but there’s the obstacle—as long as the Republicans are in power, we’re not going to be able to slow the destruction.
Noooo, as long as ideologues who have remarkable skill at manipulating idiots at the price of being unable to deal with reality are in power, we will be powerless to stop it.
Party affiliation is irrelevant.
A useful collection of references, PZ – but it’s worth noting that the piece by Bruce Sterling appeared a couple of years ago. Maybe drop the “today” in that first sentence?
Not only is Sterling’s column old, but it mentions S. Korean stem cell researchers very favorably in comparison to the US. For all I know, that could still be true, but I doubt he would be using that comparison today in light of recent scandals.
Daryl McCullough says
I think that this article reinforces the impression given by the articles about Ann Coulter and her “critique” of the theory of evolution. The idea that many conservatives want to get across is that everything is a partisan issue. There are no facts or truths independent of your political allegiances. Rather than deciding whether to believe a claim based on the evidence, one should first look at the politics of the situation: What sort of people believe that? Are they my sort of people, or are they my political opponents? Once you’ve decided on what to believe, then you can pick and choose what evidence to believe and what arguments to give credence to.
It’s ironic that this sort of attitude, that truth is in the eye of the beholder, was once imputed to liberals (in particular, those evil liberal college professor that teach deconstructionism and postmodernism). Now conservatives have adopted it wholesale.
Steve LaBonne says
Sane people on the left used to warn that the more daft versions of pomoism would come back to bite us in the ass in exactly this way, but I think few imagined the scale on which that would happen.
If scientists appear on public radio or public tv to expose the administration-led deceit, they are ignored or critized as malcontents on the liberal-atheist media. They rarely get to speak their minds on the Faux Network, and when they do, they are outshouted and, in the end, dismissed by the hosts as cranks. We need more appearances by scientists in the mainstream networks and press, as well as their assistance in providing the press with the types of questions they need to urge the administration (and at the state level as well) to respond to. I’d like to see Tony Snow politely but persistently dogged to answer such questions–what would he do if every single reporter (except maybe the administration plants) repeated the same question until a real sesponse was given? (I fear the answer would be that the moon would fall out of the sky, or pigs would fly across the podium.)
I note also that this year’s Usenix ecurity Symposium, certainly one of the most cerebral gathering of computer security and cryptographic smarty-pantses around, is held in Canada this year rather than a prominent American city. I would certainly bet heavily on the speculation that this is to increase the liklihood of speakers coming to talk openly as they seem to risk prosecution on American soil for delivering unappetizing results. Especially if those results piss off Adobe.
Jonathan Badger says
Yes, but I don’t see how this is particularly limited to conservatives. Consider the popularity of books like “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About”, or the supposed link between vaccination and autism. There’s a a large fraction of the left that simply wants to believe anything that casts the pharmaceutical industry in a bad light and discounts any attempt by scientists to put the matter straight (because “of course” scientists are only partisan shills for Big Pharma)
After what happened to Dmitry Skylarov in 2001, http://www.freesklyarov.org/ I imagine the trend has been going on for a while.
I’m ashamed of my senator Dianne Feinstein’s role in trumping up this guy’s research as some kind of big national security threat (I hold my nose and vote for her; she is an influential friend of the Bay Area, and good on other issues).
I bet Skylarov was pretty relieved in hindsight that he was released on bail before 9/11 happened.
Don’t forget that he House Science Committee just voted down the Brad Miller amendment to NOAA Organics Act (H.R. 5450) that would have put into place protections for science from political instrusion.
Your blog mate The Scientific Activist has a post on it from yesterday.
Uh…. somehow I missed your last paragraph. I guess that’s what I get for posting from work.
The worst part is that there’re more than enough reasons to be afraid of the pharmaceutical industry without making them up out of whole cloth.
Matt T. says
There’s a a large fraction of the left that simply wants to believe anything that casts the pharmaceutical industry in a bad light and discounts any attempt by scientists to put the matter straight (because “of course” scientists are only partisan shills for Big Pharma)
I don’t think that sort of wiggy thinking is solely the property of the left. Certainly, there’s an anti-corporate component of it – which itself is not exactly solely of the left (witness your ’90s style anti-government militia fruitcake) – but these are the same sort of people who bought copper bracelets and think John Edward and Sylvia Browne really do have amazing powers. Listen to any given night of “Coast To Coast AM”, and you’ll hear wooly thinking applied equally to demonic possession and the illegal immigrant question.
I know plenty of crunchy goobers who are all about curing illness by the proper massaging of one’s aura and groovy crystals and the idea that if it grows in the ground, it simply must be good for you. I also know some flat-out scary Christian Scientist types who hate medical science only slightly more than they hate feminist theory. My apolitical brother thinks Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary were onto something, maaaaan, and I’m just a cynical ol’ poop for being so boring as to demand actual evidence if I’m to accept such outrageous claims as anything but entertaining mental diversions.
Anyhow. Even the most conservative daily newspaper runs the horoscope. That’s all I’m saying.
“Presidential science adviser John Marburger complained that the UCS’s account sounded like a ‘conspiracy theory report.’ That’s because it is one.”
Well, duh. Marburger is who really irritates me, for he is the scientist who compromises. His position (science advisor) is no longer a cabinet-level one, as it was under Clinton. He was exaspirated and embarrassed by Bushie’s surprise “teach both ID and evolution” statement. It was Marburger who rushed to state that “evolution is the cornerstone of biology.” Marburger is qualified and has a brain in his skull; he knows better; but he’s ruining his life. What the hell is he doing, “advising” a President who won’t take his advice? Why is he even there, making asshat statements like the one above?