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Chris Mooney: The Republican War on Science

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    Excerpt: Chris Mooney: Scientists are pretty fired up these days, especially for such a normally staid bunch. In my travels speaking about the book, I ve run
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2006
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      Chris Mooney: Scientists are pretty fired up these days, especially
      for such a normally staid bunch. In my travels speaking about the
      book, I've run into quite a number of scientists who come up to me
      and say, "What can I do about this problem?" Scientists are ready, I
      think, to mobilize to defend the knowledge they've produced and to
      teach the broader public about the crucial importance of science to
      the nation's future.

      Before any of this will happen, though, scientists have got to learn
      a lot more about politics, and about communicating to the general
      public. Otherwise they are unlikely to be effective or successful in
      defending the integrity of scientific knowledge. I discuss some
      suggestions for how scientists might go about improving their
      political effectiveness here:


      Fw: [fuelcell-energy]
      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      The Republican War on Science

      Chris Mooney
      Friday, February 3, 2006; 11:00 AM

      Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican War on Science," was online
      to discuss his views on the federal government's increasing
      preference for ideologically driven pseudoscience over legitimate

      On a broad array of issues - stem cell research, climate change,
      missile defense, abstinence education, and many others - the Bush
      administration's positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific
      consensus. Federal science agencies, once fiercely independent under
      both Republican and Democratic presidents, are increasingly staffed
      by political appointees who know industry lobbyists and evangelical
      activists far better than they know the science.

      Mooney writes that "the politicization of science presents a severe
      challenge to modern democratic governments, which depend on a
      creative tension between elected representatives...and unelected
      technocratic elites." He maintains that this trend "weakens and
      ultimately destroys this necessary relationship."

      To that end, he continues, "the advent of the modern conservative
      movement, its takeover of the Republican Party, and its ultimate
      triumph under the administration of George W. Bush have brought us to
      a point where a true divorce between democratic government and
      technocratic expertise" is not only "conceivable [but]...actually

      Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine. He has
      written for The American Prospect, Mother Jones, Wired and Slate.

      A transcript follows.


      Chris Mooney: At the outset, let me just say that I'm glad to be
      here, and I appreciate your questions. Chance are I won't be able to
      answer all of them, and I hope you'll pardon that (there are a ton
      already rolling in!). But I'll do my best to answer quite a large
      number of questions, trying to cover a broad range of topics.

      Also, let me provide some more info about the book for those who may
      not have read it yet. The official website is here:


      And reviews of the book (positive and negative) are compiled here:


      So let's begin....


      washingtonpost.com: http://www.waronscience.com/home.php


      Denver, Colo.: Do you think it ironic that Pres. Bush is calling for
      more emphasis on science and math education (presumably to meet
      future challenges by invoking new technologies) but still thinks that
      the jury is out on biological evolution? (So science is a good thing
      if it gets us to Mars but not if it confirms facts about natural
      selection, etc.)

      Chris Mooney: Ironic to say the least. Here's a president claiming to
      support science education on the one hand, but he's formally endorsed
      the undermining of evolution--the foundational theory of biology--on
      the other. Undermining evolution is not a good way to improve science
      education. In fact, I'd call it an assault on science education.

      In the State of the Union Speech, the president also talked about
      competitiveness. Well, his restrictions on federal funding of
      embryonic stem cell research have clearly damaged competitiveness in
      that field. So, I have trouble taking his stances seriously on
      matters of science policy.


      washingtonpost.com: http://www.chriscmooney.com/article_db.asp?id=323


      Atlanta, Ga.: I would like to know how many angels can sit on the
      head of a moral pinhead?

      Chris Mooney: Great question. Would you like a faith-based or reality-
      based answer?


      El Paso, Tex.: I believe that our creator created us through the
      biological phenomenom of evolution. I see no need to separate
      evolution and intellegent design because in my view they are one and
      the same. Do many scientists share this view? Why is it so difficult
      for creationists to share this view?

      Chris Mooney: A lot of Americans share your belief. But I wouldn't
      call your position a support of "intelligent design." Intelligent
      design denies evolution. I think most experts on creationism would
      call your position "theistic evolutionism." It's one legitimate and
      accepted way to reconcile faith and science.

      Creationists can't accept theistic evolutionism because (at least for
      many of them) they view evolution as incompatible with the Bible, as
      well as a source of moral chaos.


      Clarksville, Md.: Chris,

      How would you describe the reaction of the scientific community to
      the Bush administration's condescension and contempt for science. Are
      they energized and politically organized or are they non- or
      apolitical and asleep at the Bunsen burner?

      Chris Mooney: Scientists are pretty fired up these days, especially
      for such a normally staid bunch. In my travels speaking about the
      book, I've run into quite a number of scientists who come up to me
      and say, "What can I do about this problem?" Scientists are ready, I
      think, to mobilize to defend the knowledge they've produced and to
      teach the broader public about the crucial importance of science to
      the nation's future.

      Before any of this will happen, though, scientists have got to learn
      a lot more about politics, and about communicating to the general
      public. Otherwise they are unlikely to be effective or successful in
      defending the integrity of scientific knowledge. I discuss some
      suggestions for how scientists might go about improving their
      political effectiveness here:



      Capitol Hill, D.C.: Chris,

      To some extent, it seems the modern fundamentalist Christian movement
      in America is attempting to coopt the epistemology of modern science,
      resulting in such odd quasi-materialist theories as intelligent
      design. For the most part, this seems to be an outgrowth from that
      movements drive to religiousize (if you will) politics. Is it
      possible to discuss the politicization of science without discussing
      the rise of religion in politics as well?

      Thanks -- An avid reader

      Chris Mooney: No, you're right, the two phenomena are intimately
      connected. Conservative Christians involved in politics often try to
      couch their faith-based positions in secular or scientific language.
      This often results in scientific distortion to make the faith-based
      position appear science-based as well. Intelligent design is just one
      example of this phenomenon.


      washingtonpost.com: Learning to Speak "Science


      Charlotte, N.C.: Surely the Republicans are not intentionally
      ignoring evidence of a "global warming" disaster. They do have
      scientists who support their belief that it is all much ado about
      nothing. The Republicans are motivated by politics but my question is
      what do you think motivates the scientists who are helping
      the "Republican War on Science"?

      Chris Mooney: I imagine they're inspired by many different things.
      There may be real cynicism in some cases, but true belief in others.

      In truth, it doesn't really matter what motivates these scientific
      dissenters, or "skeptics." What matters is that because the
      scientific consensus is now so strongly in favor of human-caused
      global warming, politicians have no business relying upon a few
      scientists who disagree with the consensus. Politicians shouldn't be
      picking scientific winners--they should be paying attention to
      accepted knowledge.


      Fort Collins, Colo.: Is there more to this 'war' than the fact that
      some Republican constituencies are unhappy with the scientific
      consensus on some subjects, e.g. religious conservatives oppose
      evolution and stem cell research, and some business interests oppose
      climate change and other environmental initiatives? Are there
      examples of Democrats opposing the scientific 'consensus' while
      Republicans are upporting it?

      Chris Mooney: There are certainly misuses of science on the
      Democratic side. Given that politicians always want to find "science"
      that will back up their policy positions, it would be surprising if
      this *weren't* the case.

      Accordingly, in the book I discuss some misuses of science by
      Democrats and the left: For instance, exaggerations of the immediate
      promise of embryonic stem cell research. My contention, though, is
      that the science abuse problem from the political right today is
      systemic, not just occasional. Because of misuses of science to
      appease both business interests and religious conservative, misuses
      and distortions of science have infested the federal government at a
      wide variety of agencies. And this is something we have not seen


      Mayfield, Ky.: What are some of the arguments the Bush administration
      presents in defense of its position to ignore scientific evidence? I
      am thinking of articles I've seen regarding Bush rejection of climate
      change/global warming.

      Chris Mooney: Well, they just don't admit that they're ignoring
      scientific evidence (or misusing it). Bush science adviser John
      Marburger has rejected the contentions of those, like the Union of
      Concerned Scientists, who claim the administration systematically
      misuses and distorts science. I find Marburger's arguments very
      unpersuasive, as I argue in Chapter 14 of the book.

      This is really what keeps this science politicization problem alive:
      The fact that the administration won't even admit the problem exists,
      much less apologize for it.


      Santa Barbara, Calif.: I am an academic research working on global
      climate change. My colleagues are, to put it midly, not big fan's of
      the administration, and they pretty much blame Bush and the
      Republicans for our inaction on global warming. But I have a somewhat
      different view.

      While I hardly think the administration has been progressive on this
      issue, I think their inaction laregely reflects most Americans
      viewpoint on global warming. That is, global warming is not enough of
      a concern to prompt Americans to be willing to make serious financial
      and lifestyle concessions, such as accepting a large gas tax. If my
      instinct is right, then the Republicans are just responding to the
      will of the electorate. Do you agree?

      Chris Mooney: I'm not sure of the polling figures, but I agree that
      the American public is not particularly roused about global warming.
      That's partly the fault of the media, which at best covers the issue
      episodically, and often employs phony "balance" to create the
      semblance of a scientific controversy that does not actually exist.

      There are definitely politicians who exploit this situation in order
      to support political inaction (often misusing and distorting science
      in the process). But I don't believe that politicians should put off
      dealing with problems just because there's no huge politician
      incentive to address them.


      Astoria, N.Y.: Are you familiar with Dr David Hager, the right-wing,
      evangelical gynecologist from Kentucky who was appointed by president
      Bush to an advisory panel on the FDA? If so, I understand that,
      somehow, Dr. Hager was able to wield great influence over the FDA's
      decision to ban the morning afetr pill from over-the-counter sales.
      How was he able to have so much influence when he was only one of
      many people on an advisory panel? And is he still on that FDA

      Chris Mooney: I'm familiar with Dr. Hager; I discuss him in Chapter
      13 of the book. I don't believe he's still on the advisory committee.
      It's unclear exactly how much influence he had, but it appears to
      have been considerable. Certainly the argument used by the FDA to
      block wider access to Plan B (the morning after pill)--that there
      wasn't enough information about how young teens would use the drug--
      was centrally argued by Dr. Hager.

      For more, see here:


      Rockville, Md.: Is it possible to doubt the ill effects of global
      warming and not be a Republican? I tend to fear the next ice age more
      than a warmer climate.

      Chris Mooney: Sure, it's possible, but not particularly advisable, no
      matter your political inclination. The science consensus is very
      strong that we should be much more worried about melting glaciers
      than another ice age at the present moment.


      New York, N.Y.: As the child of two phd physicists, it comes as no
      surprise that the GOP and scientists are feuding (though perhaps that
      is a reflection of my view of the GOP).

      It is just inconceivable that scientists and a party whose base
      believes in creationism is going to get along.

      What do you think will happen to the scientific edge of this country?

      Chris Mooney: I agree with you. And let me add that unlike the GOP,
      the Democrats do not have any significant political constituency that
      requires them to deny something as fundamental to modern science as
      evolution (like plate tectonics, relativity, or the germ theory of

      I think it's important to remember that in this nation, we still have
      an incredible scientific establishment and strong government support
      for scientific research. That's not in immediate jeopardy. But what
      I'm worried about is whether the knowledge we produce will translate
      into solutions to the problems facing us. The gulf between between
      reliable scientific information and political decisionmaking is
      indeed very troubling.


      washingtonpost.com: Christian Science?


      Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Has no one remarked on the parallel between
      the Bush Administration's subordination of science to ideology and
      that of Stalin's? I'm not suggesting that Bush is as murderous as
      Stalin, of course. He and Rove prefer character assassination to the
      real thing.

      Chris Mooney: Analogies have been made with Stalin and Lysenkoism,
      but I generally frown on such analogies, especially if they're not
      stated very carefully. I don't think the problem we're seeing can
      really compare to the kinds of attacks on science and scientists that
      can take place in a totalitarian society.

      In Stalin's Russia things proceeded far beyond mere state-supported
      denial of genetics and into the realm of human rights outrages:
      Scientists were imprisoned, even executed, if they didn't agree with
      Lysenko. However bad our current situation may be, there's no way it
      compares with this sort of nightmare.


      Adams Morgan Washington DC: Did you really write a lot of this book
      at Tryst coffee shop right in my 'hood?

      Chris Mooney: Yes. Absolutely true. And right now I'm answering
      questions at Open City in DC.


      Long Beach, Calif.: You mention plate tectonics. How do you view the
      fact that this was discovered by a German amateur geologist around
      the turn of the last century, yet geologists could not get a job at a
      University up until the 1960's if they believed in continental plates
      that actually moved?

      Chris Mooney: It's a great--canonical--example of a scientific
      paradigm shift. If you're suggesting that this somehow contradicts my
      arguments, I don't see why. The best scientific answer won out with
      plate tectonics, even if it took a while.


      Fort Myers, Fla.: Welcome.

      In research for your book, were you able to find a single instance
      where a Bush appointee did NOT ensure that ideology trumped science?

      If so, who? And have they survived the axe in spite of their

      Chris Mooney: I'm sure there are many such examples. One comes to
      mind from the Reagan years: Surgeon General C. Everett Koop refused
      to allow the science of sexual health to be politicized, and spoke
      out on using condoms to prevent AIDS. He refused to produce a report
      requested by Reagan on the health risks of abortion, believing the
      request was political.


      Denver, Colo.: Mr. Mooney, I have found your book a fascinating, if
      distressing, read. Other than supporting efforts to improve the
      educational improvements in science instruction, and encouraging
      greater efforts at informing US citizens about the basic tenets of
      science, how do we overcome the political marketing and PR onslaught
      of the Republicans, and immense spending by the religious right to
      denigrate science and the scientific method?

      I think you've done an admirable job in the book at identifying the
      problem. What can I, and others ,do?

      Chris Mooney: In terms of what you can do: Again, see this article
      p). This is my attempt to begin to sketch an answer to the problem.
      To go further: Scientists must continue to speak out, that's for
      sure. We also need to support reforms that will ban political
      interference with science inside of government, and strengthen
      government science advice (i.e., restore Congressional Office of
      Technology Assessment).

      We also need to reform the media. Get in touch with journalists and
      complain if you feel they're creating a false scientific controversy
      on an issue--like evolution or global warming--where no controversy
      actually exists.


      Oakland, Calif.: Has the situation in Dover, Pennsylvania been a
      significant setback for the Intelligent Design crowd? And why does
      the President think it's OK to interject his views on ID into school
      boards' decisions?

      Chris Mooney: Without a doubt, the Dover decision is a huge setback
      for ID. The judge in the case, Judge Jones, exposed ID for what it
      really is: a religious movement, not a scientific one.

      I don't know why the president thinks it's okay for him to say what
      he said about intelligent design. I think it's incredibly
      inappropriate. But I suspect that politically, he knows he has to
      support teaching ID alongside evolution to appease his base.


      Woodbridge, Va.: At various times the consensus amoung the scientific
      elite held that:

      The earth was the center of the universe

      The world was flat

      Heavier than air flight was not possible

      The sound barrier could not be breached etc.

      In my life time scientific consensus seems to be driven more by
      liberal political correctness than by observation, theory
      development, experimentation etc. It is very telling that when
      Republicans cite "maverick" scientists, the counter attack is almost
      always that they don't represent mainstream scientific thinking
      rather than a discussion of what is wrong with their scientific

      And, yes, as a cconservative , I reject intelligent design but
      because their methods are flawed, not because they are out of the

      Chris Mooney: I'm now going to turn to answering more critical
      questions--like this one.

      My reply is that consensus certainly isn't always right in every
      instance. There's always a possibility that it may later be proven
      wrong. But in modern science, consensus represents the best knowledge
      that we have at a given time, and consensus conclusions have been
      continually tested and retested, and subject to considerable critical
      scrutiny through the scientific process. They're the best we have at
      a given time, and that's why they should be used to inform policy


      College Park, Md.: What do you think of Michael Crichton's "State of
      Fear?" As a scientist myself, I understand the dangers of accepting
      an argument at face value, or on a very shallow level, but Crichton's
      book offers a great deal of research suggesting that global warming
      is not as severe as we think. While I'm not sure if I agree, I find
      his claims difficult to ignore. What is your take on this book?

      Chris Mooney: My take that if Dr. Crichton wants to challenge the
      strong scientific consensus on human caused global warming, he should
      try the route of publishing scientific papers rather than novels. As
      for those convinced by the book, I think they should examine what's
      actually going on in the scientific literature.


      Baltimore, Md.: Your answer to Charlotte, NC betrays your apparent
      conviction that global warming is human-caused. In my firmly
      skeptical view, I have trouble accepting the conclusions reached by
      the "doom and gloom" crowd that is so eagerly waved by the "save the
      earth" crowd, based strictly on the sample size and time frame. Is
      the scientific community truly completely behind the global warming
      theory, and are those that question the recommendations of, for
      example, the Kyoto accords considered crackpots themselves, or is it
      a case of the nay-sayers questioning the agendas of the "global
      warming" scientists themselves, and possibly with good reason? This
      begins to sound like a red/blue state chasm that widens further and

      Chris Mooney: I'm not calling anyone a crackpot. I'm saying that the
      scientific process has firmly supported the theory of human-caused
      global warming. It's been supported by the National Academy of
      Sciences, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the
      American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union...and
      on and on. That's what I mean by consensus, and we discard that at
      our peril, I would say.


      Alexandria, Va.: I don't know how anyone can have the nerve of
      accusing conservatives and Republicans of "politicizing" science when
      the prime example of that thing is the "global warming" scam pushed
      by the left-wing.

      World-wide temperatures may be trending up OR down, but with no more
      than 100 (and probably less than 50) years of really accurate
      observations to go by, it is impossible for anyone to make a
      legitimate claim that they are going one way or the other with any
      confidence at all. These things happen over thousands of years, not

      But of course, the "cures" for global warming happen to be things the
      left-wing advocates anyway, so this half-baked theory is taken as
      holy writ when it actually ranks right up there with the belief in
      flying saucers and poltergeists.

      You should see to your own house before you criticize how someone
      else keeps theirs.

      Chris Mooney: Again, for those who think this, I encourage you to
      consult the scientific literature, or the reports of consensus bodies
      like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There you will
      find stated a very firm conclusion that the spiking temperatures that
      we are seeing cannot be easily explained simply by invoking natural
      causes alone. Models best match observations when both natural causes
      and human causes (or forcings) are taken into account. In order to
      understand what's happening with our climate, we have to recognize
      the human role. It's that simple.


      Back up the Truck!: Hold on -- I'm a lifelong Republican and I reject
      Intelligent Design. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together would
      reject it.

      So please don't paint us all with the same brush? By doing that, you
      undermine the work of moderates who are trying to change the
      fundamentalist control of the party.

      Chris Mooney: Good for you! I wish you luck in reclaiming your party.
      I'm not criticizing every single, last Republican. But I think the
      party is currently dominated by the modern conservative movement, and
      systematically distorts science to appease that movement's key
      constituencies (industry, religious conservatives). If Republicans
      can fix that problem from within, I'm all for it.


      Chris Mooney: Well, I've answered about 22 questions this hour--there
      are nearly 100 that I haven't been able to address. I apologize for
      that, but I'd need a full research team to tackle everything that was
      thrown at me. Still, I want to thank you all for contributing. To
      continue the discussion, please visit my blog at


      Chris Mooney


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      � 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive



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