Mooney: The Republican War on Science
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Chris Mooney. The Republican War on Science. New York : Basic Books, 2005. ix + 342 pages.
Politicians have always chosen not to follow scientific findings when deciding policy: after all, policy considerations often involve more than just scientific considerations. However, apparently having decided that manufactured scientific credibility can assist in the acceptance of bad policy, the second Bush Administration and his Republican party have vastly outpaced previous administrations in their manipulation and distortion of scientific results to support policy decisions.
Documenting and discussing these political attacks on science is the goal of Chris Mooney's book, and it's a subject close to our heart here at Ars Hermeneutica; this book can be read as a partial justification for our creation.
In the modern market, books on political topics often meet with lowered expectations and are lightweight on research, interpretation, and presentation. Mooney's book is a welcome exception. His background as a journalist, and his preference for getting information directly from the people involved, is evidenced by the eight pages listing the interviews he used as sources; the additional 60 pages of notes to reference sources are not padded and provide a valuable resource. He has organized his text thoughtfully: 14 chapters take on a variety of major themes -- anti-science political tactics, "sound science", climate change, endangered species, stem-cell research, anti-evolutionary politics -- and treats them with historic clarity, documented sources, and thoughtful analysis.
Mooney's writing is serviceable rather than sparkling, but it serves its purpose. Here is an excerpt from the chapter "Bush League Science" (p. 242):
Because of their sweeping, systemic nature, and because they have pervaded much of the federal government, the Bush administration's abuses push the issue of science politicization to the point of crisis.
First, these abuses spread vast amounts of misinformation to the American public. If women cannot trust the National Cancer Institute for accurate information on breast cancer risks, then where can they turn? Similarly, the Bush administration has misinformed the public about the reality of human-induced global warming, about the number of stem cell lines that would be available for research under Bush's policy, and much else. In short, the administration has rendered itself untrustworthy when it comes to scientific claims, thus seriously eroding its credibility.
But perhaps even more serious than misinforming the public, we must rate the disturbing implications of the Bush administration's actions for the relationship between science and policy, and (relatedly) for the role of scientists serving in government. Politicized questioning of advisory committee nominees, and politicized editing of government reports, suggest a willingness to torque analyses to make them seem supportive of preexisting policy positions. This approach flagrantly undermines the proper role of science in government: as a valuable resource to inform decision-making. When politicians use bad science to justify themselves, rather than good science to make up their minds, we can safely assume that wrongheaded and even disastrous decisions lie ahead.
-- Notes by JNS