Science in the USA

This Reuters article summarizes my greatest fear about the USA today: the growing hostility to science. And it’s not just the Evolution / Intelligent Design “debate” either. It really does seem like the whole concept of rational argument is being debased in this country. When scientific reasoning is reduced to “just another opinion” along with those of lobbyists and fringe groups when it comes to setting major policy in Government, you’ve got to worry where the country is going.

I live in the reality-based community, and so does most of the rest of the world. The US is in danger of being left behind.

What the hell is wrong with Kansas?

Given today’s decision, maybe I really do need to read this. Because I so do not get it.

Honestly, I’m not a total secular facist. If the schools want to teach comparative religion and, as part of that, mention that there are some folks who, as part of their religious view of the world, are critical of evolution, well, that’s a-okay. Learning the tentants of the world’s religions is a valuable contribution to any eductation. But when a state funded program starts to endorse one of those viewpoints…. well, that’s NOT okay. Also not okay? When the distinction between science and religion break down. And when the distinction between church and state breaks down, well that just makes me crazy.

Lysenkoism, revisited

It’s a new term, but the Bush administration is as disdainful of scientific fact as ever. I am Jack’s utter lack of surprise. Think Progress has a round-up of the latest egregious examples of scientific misinformation perpetrated by the Bush white House, with details of cover-ups on evironmental effects of farming and climate warming. It’s getting so that it’s no longer appropriate to refer to “creeping” lysenkoism; in the US today, “trampling” might be a more appropriate description.

The triumph of ideology over reason

In his response to the first report of the Union of Concerned Scientists (see Feb 19 entry), President Bush claimed that he “believes policies should be made with the best and most complete information possible, and expects his Administration to conduct its business with integrity and in a way that fulfills that belief.� The belief appears to be a hollow one. In their update to the February report, the Union of Concerned Scientists details egregious examples of political litmus tests being applied to scientific appointments to advisory panels. Examples:

  • Several appointees to National Institute of Health advisory councils were contacted by Secretary Tommy Thompson�s office at the Department of Health and Human Services, and asked pointedly political questions, including their opinions of President Bush, their opinions of stem-cell research, whether they supported “faith-based” programs, and who they voted for in the last election. Those who did not answer in alignment with Bush doctrine did not have their nominations approved.
  • 19 of 26 scientific nominations to the board of the Fogarty Center (an NIH branch), including a Nobel laureate, were rejected. The reasons for rejection included signing too many letters in the New York Times critical of Bush, being on the board of a nonprofit reproductive health organization, and publicly supporting abortion rights.
  • Scientific nominations to the President’s Council on Bioethics were rejected on the basis of supporting stem cell research, leaving the ideologue-stacked Council with little scientific input.

These actions amount to nothing less than a Lysenkoist coup over the scientific advisory mechanism within the executive branch. Having political appointees ignore scientific evidence is one thing — as illustrated by the example of the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior (and former lobbyist for the National Mining Association) rejecting a mountain (pun intended) of data around the devastating environmental impact of mountaintop strip mining. But this scientific McCarthyism means that those scientific opinions will never even be heard, much less considered. The triumph of ideology over reason is complete.

More Creeping Lysenkoism

Just days after the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a damning report of the Bush Administration’s disdain for scientific advice in policymaking (see Feb 19 entry), Bush ejects two scientists from the Bioethics Council and replaces them with three anti-biotechnology advocates.

There’s an insightful discussion of the motivations for this at TechCentralStation. As pointed out there, the BioTechnology Council was created by Bush specifically to provide a range of opinions related to the ethics of biotechnological development:

The Council shall strive to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues that it considers. In pursuit of this goal, the Council shall be guided by the need to articulate fully the complex and often competing moral positions on any given issue, rather than by an overriding concern to find consensus. The Council may therefore choose to proceed by offering a variety of views on a particular issue, rather than attempt to reach a single consensus position.

What’s the point of creating a council to deliver a range of opinions when you deliberately stack it with people all of whom share the same opinion? But as Phil Bowermaster points out:

When making policy on matters as important as stem cell research it’s crucial for the President to hear all viewpoints — unless he’s already made up his mind. That’s the problem here. Bush has made up his mind and isn’t interested in hearing opposing views anymore.

Click those Ruby slippers again, George.

You can read further reactions here and here.

Bush’s Broken Ruby Slippers

I don’t know what distresses me more about this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists: that the Bush administration is ignoring, bending, or outright refuting scientific fact to meet their political whims, or that the Administration can dismiss the legitimate concerns of 60 prominent scientists (including 20 Nobel laureates) with claims of “bias” or “political motivation”. Frankly, if you can’t trust the opinions of leading-light scientists on the issue of science, then who can you trust?

But this issue is illustrative of a wider problem with the Bush administration I find even more troubling (to use a word Bush himself is rather fond of lately): Bush’s penchant for wish-politics. Like no President before him, Bush really, truly, seems to believe that he can make something true simply by wishing for it. Facts, political realities, practicalities, the will of the people be damned: it simply shall be. In fact, Bush appears to go out of his way to actively avoid any facts that might conflict with his will: he famously does not read newspapers, and his ignorance of scientific advisors in decisionmaking is symptomatic of this, too.

Bush wished that there should be a war in Iraq. He dearly wished that weapons of mass destruction would be the justification of that war, and no amount of evidence to the contrary from the weapons inspectorate, nor opposition from the UN or allies would convince him otherwise.

Bush wished that tax cuts would lead to job growth. With each tax cut, jobs were lost, in their millions, rather than gained as wished-for. Bush appears truly oblivious to this fact.

Bush wished that 2.6 million new jobs would magically appear this year, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers was apparently happy to publish this wish, in the face of doubt from every economist alive. Even Bush won’t repeat his wish now, but he won’t deny its self-willed truth, either.

Bush wished that Iraq would be a democracy by the end of June. The fact that the UN insists it’s simply not possible, not only politically but practically has no bearing on this: it will happen, according to Bush.

I have this image of Bush when he’s alone in the White House. He’s wearing his ruby slippers. His eyes are closed, and as he taps the heels together he softly chants: “There’s no such thing as truth. There’s no such thing as truth. There’s no such thing as truth.”

I’m afraid there is, George.

Read on for examples from the full UCS report of the head-in-the-sand mentality of the Bush administration with regard to politically unpalatable scientific fact:
Continue reading “Bush’s Broken Ruby Slippers”