May 28, 2018

The Republican War on Science

Science FishI read The Republican War on Science back in 2006 and recommended it at the time. I noted that while most political administrations (both Republican and Democratic) make mistakes when it comes to misusing science, the book made a compelling case that the administration of George W. Bush reached new lows in science abuse. "Intelligent" design, pollution and global climate change, stem cell research, sex education, abortion, and the protection of endangered species were among the examples presented.

How did the Bush administration abuse science? They followed the lead of big tobacco by deliberately misleading the public through manufacturing scientific uncertainty where none existed. There was an overwhelming scientific consensus that human pollution has been leading to climate change, and so the Bush administration hyped a handful of fringe scientists who disagreed with this consensus and claimed that more research was needed.

Why did they do these things? It would be nice if we had the sort of accountability where we could get answers to questions like this. But since we don't, I think we can speculate that the corporations which owned that administration did not want any regulations. If this seems far-fetched, just look at how they sought to manufacture a controversy over evolution where no real debate exists among scientists to appease their evangelical Christian base.

The idea that the Bush administration was awful in terms of their misuse of science seems almost silly today in light of what has been happening under Trump. My guess is that history is going to take a dim view of the Trump administration when it comes to their misuse of science. In many ways, it seems determined to be even worse than the Bush administration was.

When I read this book in 2006, I could not recall any other book which made me as angry as it did. Governments are supposed to use science to inform policy decisions. If they choose to ignore evidence of climate change because they think environmental regulations are bad for the economy, come out and say so. I can accept this even if I don't agree with it. But to intentionally distort science to fit preconceived policy decisions is unforgivable.

For those who share my concern with the political misuse of science, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists for more information about what we can do.