Friday, October 07, 2005

Science Abuse

Scientific American has an interesting review by Boyce Rensberger of The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney.
Thomas Jefferson would be appalled. More than two centuries after he helped to shape a government based on the idea that reason and technological advancement would propel the new United States into a glorious future, the political party that now controls that government has largely turned its back on science.

Even as the country and the planet face both scientifically complex threats and remarkable technological opportunities, many Republican officeholders reject the most reliable sources of information and analysis available to guide the nation. As inconceivable as it would have been to Jefferson--and as dismaying as it is to growing legions of today's scientists--large swaths of the government in Washington are now in the hands of people who don't know what science is. More ominously, some of those in power may grasp how research works but nonetheless are willing to subvert science's knowledge and expert opinion for short-term political and economic gains.

That is the thesis of The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney, one of the few journalists in the country who specialize in the now dangerous intersection of science and politics. His book is a well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists. Mooney's chronicle of what he calls "science abuse" begins in the 1970s with Richard Nixon and picks up steam with Ronald Reagan. But both pale in comparison to the current Bush administration...

This naive understanding of science hands the Right a time-tested tactic. It does not claim that business interests or moral values trump the scientific consensus. Rather rightists argue that the consensus itself is flawed. Then they encourage a debate between the consensus and the extremist naysayers, giving the two apparently equal weight. Thus, Mooney argues, it seems reasonable to split the difference or simply to argue that there is too much uncertainty to, say, ban a suspect chemical or fund a controversial form of research.

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