Republican Rhetoric and the War on Science

Tristero makes an excellent point about Republican rhetoric, and I think it partially explains why so many scientists are opposed to the Bush Administration. Tristero compares the Niger ‘evidence’ for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with the rhetoric opposing the HPV vaccination (italics mine):

Why were we positive Bush was lying? Because no one who is telling the truth talks like this about such a serious subject. Notice the first five words. It’s not that Saddam recently sought significant quantities yadda yadda, but only that “the Briitish government has learned.” If there was any real evidence, and if Bush had any real confidence in that evidence, I assure you there would be no qualifications. Nevertheless, the impression created – via context and sentence structure and possibly even verbal emphasis when delivered – was not that the British government reported something the US couldn’t confirm despite the obvious importance of doing so, but rather that Saddam was acquiring nuclear bombs. Notice also the utterly superfluous but rhetorically important “significant” – as if the acquisition of even a single grain of uranium by Saddam would be anything less than totally alarming to an American public that had been told to expect the next Sept 11 as a mushroom cloud. No. An honest president with legitimate concerns for America’s safety would have begun, “The US government has learned,” and then proceeded actually to spend some time describing how and what we learned.
Therefore, it was clear that no one in the Bush administration – including Bush himself, or he surely would have approved a stronger statement that was less carefully hedged – believed for a second that Saddam had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. They just wanted you to believe it, and they were prepared to lie about it. And they did. Similarly, Bonnen doesn’t really believe there are any serious and real objections to mandating a vaccination that could protect the spread of cancer, including the possibility that vaccinating these girls will lead to teenage sexual activity. Because if he did, he’d have rephrased his soundbite in order to spell out exactly what those “implications” were.
This is not to say that concerns about longterm effects aren’t important, or that Big Pharma’s greed isn’t real. Rather, what I am saying is that you can’t have a serious discussion of such concerns within the context of modern Republican rhetoric. That’s because the very structure of their objections is deliberately misleading when it’s not utterly truthless. Before a genuine exploration of the pros and cons of a mandated vaccination program can begin, you must ground that discussion in reality. But a discussion that is begun and framed in such a deliberately deceitful, amorphous, and bellicose fashion as it was by the Republican Representative from Texas can only end up the way it began: completely inane.

To attempt to have serious conversations with the deluded (e.g., creationists, global warming deniers) or outright liars (conservatives who oppose the HPV vaccine because of hangups about sex they won’t publicly admit) is pointless. It’s like talking to a crazy person in a tin foil helmet.

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3 Responses to Republican Rhetoric and the War on Science

  1. NIGER says:


  2. dcbob says:

    Mike, I think you’re wrong about this one. I’ve found that you can make a lot of progress talking to crazy people in tin foil helmets.

  3. Joshua says:

    You know, there’s an interesting point here. I think there’s a comparison to be made with the Cuban Missile Crisis. See, we had actual photographic evidence of missiles in Cuba. Not artists conceptions or sketchy unconfirmed reports. Well, we did have sketchy reports, but those were thrown out because sketchy doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about possibly invading another country.
    Mr. President, you’re no Jack Kennedy.
    When I was checking up on Wikipedia, I also came across this:

    The next morning, Kennedy informed the executive committee that he believed only an invasion will remove the missiles from Cuba. However he was persuaded to give the matter time and continue with both military and diplomatic pressure. He agreed, and ordered the low-level flights over the island to be increased from two a day to once every two hours. He also ordered a crash program to institute a new civil government in Cuba if an invasion went ahead.

    Simply stunning in the context of the past six years. A President who has advisers who are willing to actually disagree with his firm convictions? A President who not only listens to people who disagree with him, but allows himself to be persuaded to change his mind? A President who recognises that if an invasion does become necessary that we might want to think about what happens after the invasion before we invade?
    There’s a reason that America is proud of President Kennedy, just as there’s a reason we will be very, very ashamed of President Bush.

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