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The Republican War on Science [Bargain Price] [Paperback]

Chris Mooney
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Does the Bush administration ignore or deny mainstream research to please its conservative base? Have business groups and certain religious lobbies helped it do so? Does Bush-era treatment of scientists differ from that of Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan? Has a Republican Congress passed laws designed to disable clean air and water efforts, and has it dismantled safeguards, such as the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, meant to give legislators unbiased advice? Mooney's passionate, thoroughly researched volume answers these questions with an urgent "yes." A former American Prospect writer who is making his book debut, Mooney uses interviews and old-fashioned document-digging to explain how, over two decades, right-wing politicians built institutions designed to discredit working scientists; how some energy companies have allied themselves with powerful Republicans (such as Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma) to block or reverse U.S. steps to curb global warming; and how the present administration defies expert consensus on climate change, on mercury pollution, even on how to read statistics. Mooney tracks Bush White House efforts to spread misinformation about stem cells; the work of religious right regulators like Dr. David Hager (formerly on the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs advisory committee) in restricting access to birth control; and the attempts of the Discovery Institute (and other think tanks linked to the Bush base) to fight the teaching of evolution. In the past five years, Mooney documents, many formerly apolitical physicists, biologists and doctors have come to believe there is a "pattern" of science abuse under Bush, a push back against the methods of science itself. Conservatives may react with indignation; liberals, moderates and working scientists will find few surprises,but Mooney's very readable, and understandably partisan, volume is the first to put the whole story, thoroughly documented, in one place.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

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, which in four years has: * Rejected the scientific consensus on global warming and suppressed an EPA report supporting that consensus.
* Stacked numerous advisory committees with industry representatives and members of the religious Right.
* Begun deploying a missile defense system without evidence that it can work.
* Banned funding for embryonic stem cell research except on a claimed 60 cell lines already in existence, most of which turned out not to exist.
* Forced the National Cancer Institute to say that abortion may cause breast cancer, a claim refuted by good studies.
* Ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remove information about condom use and efficacy from its Web site. Mooney explores these and many other examples, including George W. Bush's support for creationism. In almost every instance, Republican leaders have branded the scientific mainstream as purveyors of "junk science" and dubbed an extremist viewpoint--always at the end of the spectrum favoring big business or the religious Right--"sound science." One of the most insidious achievements of the Right, Mooney shows, is the Data Quality Act of 2000--just two sentences, written by an industry lobbyist and quietly inserted into an appropriations bill. It directs the White House's Office of Management and Budget to ensure that all information put out by the federal government is reliable. The law seems sensible, except in practice. It is used mainly by industry and right-wing think tanks to block release of government reports unfavorable to their interests by claiming they do not contain "sound science." For all its hostility to specific scientific findings, the Right never says it opposes science. It understands the cachet in the word. Perhaps Republicans sense what pollsters have known for decades--that the American public is overwhelmingly positive about science and that there is nothing to be gained by opposing a winner. Instead the Right exploits a misconception about science common among nonscientists--a belief that uncertainty in findings indicates fatally flawed research. Because most cutting-edge science--including most research into currently controversial topics--is uncertain, it is dismissed as junk. 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. The Republican War on Science details political and regulatory debates that can be arcane and complex, engrossing reading only for dedicated policy wonks. Thankfully, Mooney is both a wonk and a clear writer. He covered many of the battles in real time for publications such as the Washington Post, Washington Monthly, Mother Jones and American Prospect. "When politicians use bad science to justify themselves rather than good science to make up their minds," Mooney writes, "we can safely assume that wrongheaded and even disastrous decisions lie ahead." Thomas Jefferson would, indeed, be appalled. Writing in 1799 to a young student whom he was mentoring, the patriot advised the man to study science and urged him to reject the "doctrine which the present despots of the earth are inculcating," that there is nothing new to be learned. He concluded by saying opposition to "freedom and science would be such a monstrous phenomenon as I cannot place among possible things in this age and this country."

Boyce Rensberger directs the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and teaches in M.I.T.'s Graduate Program in Science Writing. For many years he was a science reporter and editor at the Washington Post. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

A book titled The Republican War on Science is bound to court controversy, and whether critics liked the book or not surely reflected their own political views and opinion of the current administration. Nonetheless, most reviewers believed that Mooney makes a convincing case that the GOP has launched a systematic assault against unbiased scientific inquiry and that it allows dogma to drive public policy. But critics viewed with skepticism Mooney’s contention that the political right has a virtual monopoly on such behavior and claimed that he offered too few examples of the left’s scientific malfeasance. Mooney tries to put the GOP on trial, but a few holdouts keep him from scoring a conviction.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Mooney performs a useful service by researching all the details and interviewing as many of the protagonists as possible. He also enriches the narrative with much historical context, tracing over decades a gradual politicization of science that has culminated in the present farce." The Guardian "Chris Mooney, a liberal investigative journalist, has bravely decided to thwack his way into this jungle of propaganda and lies on our behalf...definitive...disturbing..." Independent on Sunday "Mooney takes several un-related charged debates - on climate change, stem-cell research, whether abortion harms women - and stitches them together to form... a pretty convincing tapestry". The Times "...Chris Mooney argues persuasively that the Bush Administration's hostility to science is not limited to denial of global warming and evolution, but spans the field, from family planning to missile defence. He is particularly illuminating about tactics: the method is not simply to rubbish the experts, but to sow doubt by nurturing a handful of maverick dissenters, so the non-expert public is left wondering who to believe." The Times (Best Science Books of 2005) "Rather than representing an isolated incident, Chris Mooney argues that the "hoax" argument about climate change forms part of a systematic undermining of science on the part of the Bush administration, which connects the teaching of creationism in schools to embryonic stem-cells and child obesity to the depletion of the ozone layers." The Irish Times "a valuable chronicle of Bush's persistent efforts to undermine the authority of science in the interests of his anti-regulatory and anti-abortion agendas." London Review of Books "The book is a well researched guide to the recent history and has to be praised in its original analysis of the tactics used by the new Right to starve the scientific advisory apparatus and in its bringing out the confrontational nature of the attitudes of the Bush Administration and its allies. It should be read by Americans and will be interesting to scientists everywhere. We should be grateful to Chris Mooney for his diligence." Time Higher Education Supplement "The American conservative movement, as Chris Mooney points out in this fiercely anti-Republican book, has brought together two powerful constituencies - big industry and the religious right - both of which have an interest in skewing scientific advice so that it says what they want to hear... (his) case is so appealing, his examples so glaring..." New Statesman" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Chris Mooney, a journalist specializing in the relation of science and politics, is a Washington correspondent for Seed magazine. He has written for the American Prospect, Mother Jones, Wired, the Washington Post, Slate, and many other publications. The Republican War on Science is his first book. He lives in Washington, D.C.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The Washington Post

The right's so-called war against science is a hot topic. Consider President Bush's interference with embryonic stem cell research, his remarks about creationism in schools and his aides' editing of scientific studies of global warming and environmental hazards. Naturally, liberals and leftists are furious about such meddling, especially those who rightly worry that global warming endangers civilization, who welcome stem cell research as the royal road to miracle cures, who fear mercury poisoning every time they bite into a tuna sandwich and who dread Jesus's imminent replacement of Darwin in biology classrooms.

Evidence abounds of the Bush administration's ham-handed approach to making science policy. The topic is thus ripe for a quasi-scholarly, quasi-journalistic study -- perhaps one akin to Daniel S. Greenberg's 1967 classic, The Politics of Pure Science , or its excellent 2001 successor, Science, Money, and Politics. Unfortunately, Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science is not that study.

That's a shame, for he is a talented and energetic young Washington correspondent for Seed, an excellent and relatively new popular-science magazine. In writing a book about science-policy-making in America today, Mooney has bravely tackled a gigantic and complex topic. Unfortunately, the journalist in him won out over the scholar, for he ends up trying to reduce the subject's complexities to the "good guy/bad guy" categories of TV polemicists. The resulting book is ill-formulated, overwrought and surprisingly unconvincing. (Trust me: As a resident of tree-hugging, gay-marrying, marijuana-scented, Bush-bashing San Francisco, I was prepared to be convinced.) At best, the book is a handy summary of familiar stories about the Bush administration's comic-opera style of making science policy. But the stories here seem curiously disconnected; if they're covertly linked by a systematic, subterranean Republican conspiracy against science, Mooney has failed to uncover it.

Historically, debates over U.S. science policy have at least two broad features. First, there are the scientific/technical details of the debates. (How do cirrus clouds affect global warming? Are embryonic stem cells more promising, in terms of potential medical applications, than adult stem cells?) Then there are the broader, quasi-philosophical questions that loom beyond the technical details. (Is the hype over the alleged benefits of stem cell research camouflage for the long-running corporate effort to commercialize, patent and commodify the ingredients of life? Is global warming symptomatic of a deeper problem, namely the inherent dependence of consumer-capitalist societies on massive and perhaps finite sources of cheap energy?) A thoughtful book on U.S. science policy would have explored questions from the first category and, ideally, touched on questions from the second. But Mooney's book deals with neither.

And then there's that title. I know that publishers must "move" books, but The Republican War on Science -- really, now! Could Ann Coulter be any more glib? The book's theme would have been more accurately captured with The Right-Wing Evangelical Republican War on Science, but I suppose that sounded clunky. Hence the present go-for-the-jugular title, which proved unfortunate for Mooney, timing-wise: On July 29, less than two months before the book's publication, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a doctor, split with the Bush administration by supporting legislation for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. If there really is a sustained Republican war on science, Frist's announcement suggests that some of the rebel generals are starting to wave white flags.

Judging by the book, Mooney isn't interested in scientific research per se. He says almost nothing about the technical details of debates over computer models, observational anomalies, instrumental glitches, data-collection methodologies and the like. To me, such debates are intellectually fascinating; they're a sobering reminder of how selfishly Mother Nature guards her secrets and, thus, of why we must proceed pragmatically but cautiously in basing any irrevocable societal decision on tentative scientific findings. (They're always tentative: Yesterday's paradigm is today's compost.) Even more interesting, the scientific debates dramatize how reasonable, honest people -- including scientists -- can fundamentally disagree when they're looking at exactly the same data. Among philosophers of science, a favorite analogy for this is a Gestalt diagram. To one person, the diagram looks like a duck; to someone else, it's an antelope.

By ignoring such philosophical complexities, Mooney has produced a book without much intellectual gravity. Instead, he offers a kind of conspiracy theory, which might be summarized thus: "If Republicans support a certain science policy, it's bad. If they oppose it, it's good."

In that regard, one of Mooney's covert premises (he never spells it out in much detail, but it's there) is that there are sure-fire, logical criteria for distinguishing between "good science" and "bad science." He isn't alone in believing in these unicorns, of course: So do those Republican apologists and industry flacks who for years have huffed and puffed about the junk science allegedly generated by environmentalists. Reading Mooney's account, you'd never guess that philosophers have quarreled vainly for many decades over how to draw lines of demarcation between good and bad science.

Ironically, when Mooney tries to distinguish between bad (i.e., Republican-backed) and good (anti-Republican) science, he applies these logical criteria in wildly inconsistent ways, according to whether they uphold his political prejudices. For example, early on he praises "peer review" (in which expert reviewers vet manuscripts submitted for publication) as a cornerstone of good science. Yet elsewhere, in discussing those who call for better peer review of government environmental rules, he accuses them of hampering needed regulation. On page 148, he advocates the use of scientific "modeling" as a tool for anticipating ecosystem and biodiversity changes. But on page 8, he approvingly quotes an expert who dismisses the proposed replacement of animal experiments with computer models as "science fiction." Mooney is like a judge who interprets a law one way to convict his enemies and another way to acquit his friends.

I regret writing these words because, as far as I'm concerned, Mooney's political heart is in the right place. Really, though: Can't we progressives develop a sounder basis for science policymaking than this?

Reviewed by Keay Davidson
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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