on August 30, 2005
Mooney does a good job at meticulously showing the politicization of science by both sides, but as the title shows, he refuses to make the common journalistic mistake of imposing "false balance" where it is not warranted. Just as you wouldn't say, "people differ on roundness of the Earth", Mooney has the courage and the wherewithall to call a spade a spade - and he doesn't ask you to take his word for it.
The facts are here for anyone with eyes to see. The "perfect storm" of anti-regulatory conservatives and fundamentalist Christians have combined to wage a unified war against science with a vengeance that the disorganized "frankenfood" liberals can only dream of.
Mooney's objective, scientific approach to making his case only makes his partisan conclusions that much more compelling and impossible to deny. In this war of reason vs. ideology, Mooney plants himself firmly on the side of reason, while always being fair. After reading his book, anyone who values science and critical thinking will do the same.
on September 2, 2005
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
That oft-quoted statement from Carl Sagan captures the essence of the scientific approach to knowledge. Before an idea can achieve the revered status of "theory," it must survive round after round of skeptical criticism.
Evolution, for example, has withstood nearly 150 years of challenges. With minor modifications to Darwin's seminal ideas, it has become perhaps the most robust theory in all of science.
Religious fundamentalists, who oppose that theory as well as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, are major combatants in what journalist Chris Mooney describes in his new book as The Republican War on Science. Allied with them is a force of neo-conservative soldiers who resist the conclusions of environmental research, especially about global climate change.
Yet neither religion nor business is fundamentally opposed to science. Probably a majority of American scientists guide their lives by faith in a Creator, but they do not consider their houses of worship as observatories or laboratories in which to test the existence of a deity. And most modern businesses rely on science and technology to make a profit.
Thus most readers of this book, including liberal Democrats, will consider Mr. Mooney's brash thesis extraordinary. Though they may view it an interesting model of what is happening in American politics today, they will demand extraordinary research before declaring it a viable theory.
Indeed, the evidence supporting the existence of a partisan War on Science will never measure up to the Sagan criterion. The most the author can hope for is that open-minded people will consider his ideas compelling. In that, he has succeeded admirably.
By the time readers finish this book they will understand who the opponents of science are and how they have taken control of the Republican Party. The Party's rightist base has adopted positions that are antithetical to science, not because they oppose science per se but because government policies suggested by the scientific consensus threaten their religious beliefs, their economic status, or their societal influence.
Readers will also see the very effective political strategy that this alliance has evolved: to redefine science, to undermine science, and to misconstrue science even to the point of dismissing scientific consensus in favor of increasingly discredited fringe ideas.
The United States may not be embroiled in a war on science, but that phrase describes a useful model for understanding the dangers of the current administration's antiscientific tactics to our nation's future and its character. For that Republicans and Democrats, scientists and people of faith should be grateful to Chris Mooney.
on September 12, 2005
Mooney's book is an excellent review of the manipulation of science by the Right in America. From denial and manipulation of consensus scientific opinion about climate change to the "intelligent design" lunacy, he covers the right-wing attack on science over the past 25 years thoroughly.
Mooney raises a very important point about science and its treatment in the media. The conventional "he-said, she-said" journalistic coverage of scientific matters by journalists who seldom have any comprehension of the scientific method is sadly misleading. Science, through the mechanisms of peer review and independent replication of observations, is an inherently self-correcting enterprise. Trying to achieve journalistic balance by comparing a view from a consensus of scientific experts against a (usually politically-driven) contrarian does not reflect the true nature of scientific debate. It gives the fringe deniers of climate change, effects of tobacco smoke, or the decidedly unscientific creationists far more influence than their marginal ideas warrant.
If you care about science in North America, I strongly urge you to buy this book.
on August 31, 2005
I've been psyched about the release of this book for months now, and it doesn't disappoint. Far from it: this is an unbelievably thorough, balanced, and well-researched study of a phenomenon that ALL Americans need to be concerned about, no matter what their political stripes are. While the title may mislead you into thinking that this is a partisan book, Mooney's dedication here is to the integrity of the scientific research process, and not at all to politics. Indeed, his argument is that the politicization of the scientific research process is bad no matter which party does it, but that the Bush Administration and the current incarnation of the Republican Party is particularly culpable of abusing science for partisan gain. Indeed, Mooney heaps praise on the Nixon administration science policies, which were much better than what we have under the current president.
Read this book. It's leaps and bounds better than any other political book out today- Coulter AND Franken included.
No doubt many reviewers will attack Mr. Mooney's exceptional and timely work claiming a combination of "this is nothing new," and "every one does it." Such attacks simply demonstrate the strength of Mr. Mooney's thesis -- that at the beginning of the 21st century, at least in America, even science is being turned into a partisan spectator sport. The trend, if it continues, harbingers dangerous days ahead and is well worth careful examination. This work presents an excellent place to start.
Mr. Mooney cleverly traces the current situation back to the attacks on "liberal intellectuals" in the middle of the last century. These statements, often a mantra from the Nixon years forward in the GOP, originally began as an attack on the social sciences. Thus, any effort to design government plans to aid the poor were labeled as "liberal." In fairness, this description as least holds some truth as the modern liberal-conservative dichotomy often comes down to government can help solve problems - government is the problem.
Recently, however, particularly in the last 20 years, the same attack has frighteningly been pushed into the "hard" sciences. As such, one can often hear GOP faithful from Senators to Limbaugh lambasting anyone who accepts the evidence for human activity induced climate change as a "liberal," with no concern for their political views. The trend springs in no small part from the close alliance between the GOP and big businesses that see science on subjects ranging from water pollution to climate change as threats to their current business model.
Mooney successfully explains how the media's hunger for controversy and short attention span plays handily into the hands of those who attack science. Thus, even if 99% of scientists accept a theory, the 1% can combat them if provided with substantial financial support and a powerful PR Campaign. Christian "conservatives" jumped on this bandwagon with so-called "intelligent design." The fact that the method for ID relies not on the scientific method, but on arguments of analogy and negative arguments (both major science no-nos) is of no weight in a media that craves screaming and refuses to pass any thoughtful judgments.
The United States built a mighty economy on the basis of strong scientific engineering and science throughout the last century. Now, with science falling into disrepute to serve short term political aims, every American should fear the decline that is sure to follow. Mr. Mooney's book provides a much needed wake up call to the danger ahead.
In 1995, Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich fired the first political salvo in the war on science by abolishing the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). This was an impartial scientific committee that provided scientific consensus on issues brought to them from the political arena. Many of their findings conflicted with the interests of tobacco, energy, pharmaceutical, anti-environmnental, coal and oil lobbies, lobbies that contributed heavily to republican campaigns. With the dissolution of this organization, our lawmakers began to politicize science. The Gingrich campaign reached a new level of low by demanding "sound science" in making public policy. This was doublespeak for allowing every maverick scientist who was friendly to polluting industries or on their payroll, to dispute respected scientific consensus. Now, real science was denigrated as "being PC."
James Inhofe, republican senator from Oklahoma and anti-environmentalist carried on the tradition of the Gingrich revolution and the war on science. His formula is to 1) emphasize a commitment to "sound science;" 2) seize the remaining window of opportunity to challenge and dispute the scientific consensus; and 3) find experts "sympathetic to your view and make them "part of your message." This three-step approach is designed to convince the ignorant that he is for sound science when he is only interested in preventing scientific inquiry or conclusions interfering with his biggest campaign contributors--oil, gas and electric companies.
Through these pretensions of sound science, verbal legerdemain, and the passage of the Data Quality Act, the republican-led Congress has essentially been able to mire any environmental, climate or pollution control or public health bill in years of research and legal wrangling to prevent laws that will stymie the needs of their biggest contributors.
The White House has also made its contribution in many ways to misinform and mislead the public. This occurred early in 2001 when Bush lied about the number of viable stem cells for research. Official reports on global warming, for instance, have been redacted, changes ordered to make decisive conclusions equivocal ones, and even have environmental studies on the impact of carbon emissions written by a former oil executive. The White House also barred scientists from the Department of Health and Human Services from consulting with the World Health Organization without prior political approval.
The White House had been drifting in this direction for years with Ronald Reagan insisting on Star Wars even though shooting down missiles in space with other missiles was as likely as a man in Boston shooting the cigarette out of the mouth of a man in New York. Bush Sr. continued his "evolution" to the right with a pro-life stance, and his belief in a thousand points of light.
Under a republican banner, the Christian right having lost two landmark cases where they failed to keep evolution out of the classroom, and failed to get creationism in the classroom, created a marketing miracle with restyling the latter in a new package of intelligent design. Attempting to influence a scientifically ignorant public with fallacious claims of unexplained missing links, and evolution's lack of certainty, they have made inroads with the more intellectually gullible and naïve. To bolster their cause, they have enlisted a few "contrarian" scientists who have carried their guidon, but have failed to publish their stance in any peer-reviewed journal.
The Christian right has also promoted very flawed studies that supposedly revealed that adult stem cells are as viable as embryonic ones for research, that abortion was linked to breast cancer and psychosis, that condom use was ineffective against sexually-transmitted disease, and that abstinence-centered programs were the most successful sex education programs. They have even gone so far as to lobby against over-the-counter sale of the "day after" pill even though the drug works by blocking ovulation rather than interfering with implantation.
The author's counter-offensive on the republican war on science is devastating. His writing is lucid and well organized. He interviewed scores of people in preparation for writing this book. His facts are verifiable, and he has answers to every obfuscating argument the republicans, the White House, and the Christian Right can hurl. He is able to make dry topics interesting, and this book is a cornerstone for those looking for scientific answers to misleading "science."
Mooney concludes that science must be elevated to what it once was. OTA or an organization just like it should be reinstituted and reinvigorated. The presidential science advisor, relegated to insignificance, as a toady for the Bush administration, should be also elevated to its former level of prestige. A press should be more concerned with getting a scientific story right than worrying if they are giving equal time or space to those who would advocate the world is flat. An enlightened public should send the science imposters and their legislators packing back to private life.
This is rousing and informative. It tells us how to avoid an American Scientific Dark Age.
on August 30, 2005
The events recounted here are amazing. And painfully unsettling.
Republicans seem capable of shrugging off both facts and reason so long as it brings short-term gain. In the long term (and even in the short term) they're so degrading the value of actual scientific evidence, that the ability of our society to make good decisions is increasingly compromised. In trying to relegate science to "opinion," they risk far more than costs of a typical political ploy.
This assault on reason may be a greater danger to the persistence of western society than any terrorist.
This is the best snap-shot of the ugly baby called US Science, a baby that is on the one hand coddled and spoiled by a politicized program, and on the other straight-jacketed and abused by those same political hand-cuffs.
Of the four books I have reviewed on this important topic, this is the one that is the most compelling on the perversions of the extremist Republicans (I am a moderate Republican). It does not, however, provide a complete picture. Three other books are helpful:
Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion by Daniel Greenberg is the best over-all review, has a strong ethical component, and shows how the competition for money, rather than scientific progress, is diverting scarce resources and frustrating needed advances.
Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress by Daniel Sarewitz is a very useful antidote to the many books (Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, comes to mind) that claim science will solve all problems and provide authoritative cost-effective solutions to century-old human problems.
Finally, Investing in Innovation: Creating a Research and Innovation Policy That Works, edited by Lewis Bramscomb and James Keller, brings together a range of views crossing the environment within which scientific research takes place, evaluationg specific programs and policy tools, and making recommendations (all of which have been ignored by the current Bush Administration).
I take four bottom lines from these four books together:
1) We are spending too much on military science & research.
2) Neither Congress nor the Executive have a serious strategy for prioritizing problems, finding private sector partners, and providing seed money for innovative solutions.
3) Both Congress and the Executive, as well as the public and the media, are incredibly ignorant about what science can and cannot do, and where all the money is going to generally poor effect.
4) This is all so important that Science, like Intelligence, needs its own Supreme Court. I am persuaded we need a new form of hybid public agency that is fully independent of the Executive, receiving a percentage of the total disposable budget (say 3%) and hence not subject to Congressional pork-barreling and lobbying-financed pressures.
This book by Chris Mooney is the place to start if you want to be angry, or the place to end if you want to see the other three books end on the ugliest note possible--the destruction of reasonable science by unreasonable ideologues.
on October 17, 2005
Well written and clear. A little shallow in areas, but since it needs to cover a huge topic this is understandable. What I was most taken by was not the abuses of the current administration (probably because I was already aware of them), but the history of the political abuse of science. The story builds very organically from the ideological abuses of Reagan, Gingerich and all to the current from of political litmus tests for scientists.
In many ways I saw a clear relationship between the political handling of everything in this administration. They don't like the facts on the ground in Iraq? They deal with it as a political issue. They don't like the science? Ditto. They work hard to create an illusion of coherence and rationality. It's faith based science at it's worst.
I also liked the very clear, concise "what to do" section at the back. Laying out the problems is all well and good, but Mooney also offers a path to fix them.
Definately recommended for people interested in political pressure/abuse of science.
on August 30, 2005
This is a must-read for anyone who respects science. It's an eye-opening account of how the Republican political machine will do anything to advance its agenda -- as demonstrated by Bush's recent, despicable suggestion that "Intelligent Design" (AKA "Creationism") be taught in public school science classes.
But rather than reading my opinion, how about hearing from some people with a bit more expertise in this area?
"THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE is a wake-up call to all Americans who value intellectual honesty and civility in our national affairs. Mooney's exposure of the cynical collusion of special business interests aith the anti-intellectualism of the religious right is a must-read for all who care about this nation's future."
-Russell E. Train, EPA administrator under Presidents Nixon and Ford
"If left unchallenged, the Bush administration's deliberate misrepresentation and frequent outright disregard of science advisory processes will have serious consequences for the nation's economy, health and security. Chris Mooney has opened a window to reveal the extent of the anti-science bias in government policy making."
-Paul Berg, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry