Something to think about:
Last week, congress approved the nomination of Roberts to Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court. This week, Bush nominated Miers to fill the O'Connor retirement.
Critical to the intellectual evolution of man -the Supreme Court a major agent-
is that its members be of pre-existing, societally expansive,
intellectual encompass -not just potential such 'encompass'.
My 'educated opinion' on this is that most members of the last court were
'generally of such expansiveness' -Thomas least such, Scalia and
Rehnquist somewhere between. My concern then, if I read the 'intellectual
ontogeny' of Roberts and Miers correctly, is that both may come to court with
even more 'cloistered' intellectuality than Thomas -a major problem where the
future of mankind -the US cheerleading- is ineluctably tied to the scientist
and the mathematician and their 'ineluctable' pruning of noumenalisms
and ambiguity from the system.
"As surely as 'deliberative capability is a machine that goes by itself', so
too does natural selection advantage science (and the scientist) in the
evolution and progression of the whole ..."
(-from The Inevitable Transcendency of
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.
October 2005 Scientific American Magazine
Subverting scientific knowledge for short-term gain
Book Review by Boyce Rensberger
The Republican War on Science
by Chris Mooney
Basic Books, 2005
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.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH receives an honorary doctorate of science at
Louisiana State University in 2004. Those on the political Right, according
to Mooney's book, seldom oppose science directly. Instead they blur the
understanding of how science works to give business interests and religious
extremists equal footing with mainstream research.
Image: WILLIAM PHILPOTT Reuters/Corbis
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
* 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
* 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
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
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