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?”