The Real Impetus Behind the Republican War on Science

Admittedly, this isn’t anything regular ScienceBlogs readers haven’t seen before, but it’s nice to see it enter the mainstream media (albeit eight years too late). Sharon Begley:

The truly poisonous legacy of the past eight years is one that spread to much of society and will therefore be much harder to undo: the utter contempt with which those in power viewed inconvenient facts, empiricism and science in general.
Look at how Bush justified inaction on greenhouse gases. Not by arguing that cuts would have cost too much, a stance that would at least have been intellectually honest, albeit debatable. Instead he had political appointees eviscerate scientific reports on climate change, censor climatologists and exaggerate scientific uncertainties, with the result that tens of millions of Americans think that the existence and cause of global warming are matters of opinion. The same mind-set governed abstinence-only sex education. The administration could have argued that any curriculum other than one teaching “no sex before marriage” was immoral. Again, intellectually honest. But no: instead it manipulated “scientific” evaluations of the programs to make them seem more effective at preventing teen pregnancy. The justification for limiting embryonic-stem-cell research was even more insidious. The White House and its allies could have taken the morally sustainable position that 32-cell embryos are human beings and thus cannot be destroyed. Instead, they claimed, falsely, that adult and umbilical-cord stem cells can treat 72 diseases and conditions, no embryonic cells required.
It turned out that the Bush administration had about as much respect for scientific facts as it did for facts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As one official explained to author and journalist Ron Suskind in 2002, the administration had nothing but disdain for what it called “the reality-based community,” people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” That would be science. Instead, said the official, “we create our own reality.” That translated to such things as filling federal health-advisory boards with doctors who claim, against all scientific evidence, that low levels of lead are not neurotoxic to children. The message that expertise and facts do not matter has had a poisonous effect on young people’s desire to go into science, which has played no small part in America’s losing its competitive edge in R&D.
It has also undermined public trust in the integrity of science.

Better late than never, I suppose. And while Michael Hirsch wasn’t writing about science specifically, I think what he writes applies:

One tragedy of the Bush administration is the amount of American brainpower and talent that went unused, the options that went unconsidered, because they were seen to lack ideological purity.

I’m looking forward to the next few years. That doesn’t mean the work is done–far from it. But it will be nice to not look at my morning newspaper and automatically think, “What did they fuck up now?”

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7 Responses to The Real Impetus Behind the Republican War on Science

  1. gwangung says:

    One tragedy of the Bush administration is the amount of American brainpower and talent that went unused, the options that went unconsidered, because they were seen to lack ideological purity.

    Didn’t Mao and Stalin do the same thing?

  2. Scott says:

    Here, here!!!

  3. Sam C says:

    Economists aren’t rational, when the world and their theories disagree, their conclusion is that the world is wrong.
    So I was amused to see a tv prog about Mrs Thatcher’s monetarist policies in the UK, where one unusually perceptive economist of the crowd who were interviewed said something like, “but perhaps my group was listened to not because of the excellence of our analysis, but simply because what we prescribed was what they were going to do anyway”.
    My impression is that it’s almost a litmus test of “are you politics extreme or not?” as to whether you take on board all evidence, even that which you don’t like, or cherry pick only what suits your preconceptions.

  4. Nattering Nabob of Negativism says:

    I think the GOP learned valuable lessons from the tobacco industry.

  5. yogi-one says:

    We have to have investigations. Obama doesn’t want to do them, but I say he has to or else he’s inflicting damage on America. Ignorance is NOT strength, it is the way to repeat terrible past mistakes.
    Americans needs to know the extent of the political abuse that happened under the Bush Admionistration: the muzzling of scientists, the manipulation of data, the coercion and threats against scientists who tried to speak the truth.
    We also need to know if the lead-up to the war in Iraq was a breach of international law and if Bush and Cheney can be held responsible for war crimes. We need to know who lied to the American people and how and why they lied to us.
    We need to know why there was a lot of selling of United Airlines stock in the threee to four days BEFORE 9-11-01, why Bush’s cousin was put on the insurance of the twin towers two months before 9-11, when the policy was changed to include “acts of terrorism” (which wasn’t on it before July 2001), and that Larry Silverstein, owner of the twin towers, walked away with a $2 billion insurance payoff from the event.
    Anyone do the science of the Twin Towers collapse or WTC7? I think you won’t do it because you are afraid of the result, which will show that the story we have been given – that heat from the fires started by the planes caused both buildings to suddenly fall, floor by floor, into the buildings exact footprints as if the buildings had imploded on themselves . And WTC7? We weren’t given an explanation other than that the building suddenly felt like collapsing (again, exactly straight down inwards on itself – what a coincidence!) for some mysterious reason. Now that’s some good science there, yessiree!
    This is ugly stuff and of course no one wants to look at it. But if we are ever to become the nation we bloviate about being, I think we have to.
    We came dangerously close to losing our way of life under the neocons. Americans need to know the history of how it happened, who is responsible, and how to prevent it from ever happening again.
    Because people with similar motivations are bound to try it again.

  6. TomJoe says:

    Hey Mike,
    You ever going to do anything about this spam?

  7. muhabbet says:


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