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Jan 10, 2004 2:41 am

Bush and Science

The editor at Mildly Malevolent posted a link to a Christian Science Monitor commentary on a really important issue. That is the Bush administration's attempt to undermine any science that contradicts their ideology.

No recent administration has been entirely innocent of this, but this is a far more systematic effort. (One must give the Bush administration credit for finding really dedicated ideologues and apparatchniks). I am not quite as concerned as the writer is about its effect on international science. I do fear that it might damage American research, particularly in some biological fields.

We really need a lot more independent science--that is science not dependent solely on the government, corporations, or advocacy groups. Interestingly, Michael Crichton, who I have criticized for his highly politicized comments on environmental science, did suggest an interesting mechanism for reducing the political impact on research money. I'm not sure that his idea would work, but given the extremes to which the Bush administration is going (and the extreme backlash that might also do harm the next time a Democrat is elected), we need to consider new options.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 1/12/2004

A friend of mine in Chemistry read these comments and sent me a response. Here is part of it:

"What worries me are people who have religious/cultural views that are so shrouded in fear and hate that they can't see straight. Anything that challenges their simple picture is a potential threat (and evil)--including many elements of science. Knowledge about the details of the science isn't likely going to change their opinion of it. . . .

If I was deciding what was more important to teach to students before they left college, I would choose a careful and close discussion of the religious wars in Europe before I would worry about teaching them chemistry.

Isn't it interesting how you think an ignorance of science is more of a concern than an ignorance in history and I think the opposite? This must be some variation on the "grass is always greener..." rule."

Ophelia Benson - 1/11/2004

Heresy or not, ignorance of science is certainly a major worry. In fact that's a theme that keeps coming up at B&W: the gap between opinions on scientific issues and knowledge about same.

There's a school of thought in philosophy of science that it's a mistake to worry about public scientific literacy, that scientific decision-making simply ought to be democratized, in advance of knowledge. A truly terrible idea, I think.

David Salmanson - 1/11/2004

As my mother is fond of saying, the New Age is for people who do not know how their toilets work. The worst that happens when you are ignorant of history is that you become either a (shudder) economist or (extreme shudder) a sociologist. People who are ignorant of at least basic science are one step away from joining a cult.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/11/2004

Thanks for the search. This article gives a lot more detail.

I know it may be heresy, but many times Americans' ignorance of science worries more than their ignorance of history.

Ophelia Benson - 1/11/2004

I thought that article rang a bell - I had an idea I had linked to another on the same subject at B&W some time ago. But as the News archive is rather large, I had little confidence I would be able to find it. However - through sheer grit and determination and long hard slog, I found it. (Actually it took maybe a minute.)

Ophelia Benson - 1/11/2004

The response to the Waxman report by the White House press secretary is pretty classic. 'This administration looks at the facts, and reviews the best available science based on what's right for the American people.'

Ah. So the deciding factor in evaluating science is what's best for the American people. If it's not best for the American people that, say, farmed salmon is (or is not) more contaminated than wild salmon - why then it is (or is not). An interesting method of deciding factual questions.

No doubt the secretary didn't quite, exactly, literally mean it that way - no doubt he wasn't talking about epistemology - but the statement is phrased in such a way that that's pretty hard to tell. No doubt he meant to do that.

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