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How GOP twists science

I used to think that there were two things you never discussed in mixed company -- politics and religion.

It appears now that there's a third taboo subject -- science. I had always been under the impression that science was not open for debate, that facts are facts. Right?

Well, not so fast. The Republicans have decided that facts are only facts if they help the GOP political cause. And if they go against those tendencies, either political or religious, then those facts can be disregarded as "junk science."

Such is the meat and potatoes of Chris Mooney's book, "The Republican War on Science." It's a timely, if not disturbing, look at how the Republican Party and, most egregiously, the Bush administration have used "fringe science" to their advantage.

The current Bush administration has taken science and moved it a century into the past, Mooney claims. No longer do politicians use science to make informed political decisions, now politicians use political ideology to make scientific conclusions, even when there is no evidence.

"Science politicization succeeds because it confuses the public and policymakers, leading them to believe that a scientific 'controversy' exists where one does not," Mooney writes. "Or that widely discredited claims are still given serious consideration in the world of science."

Mooney says the Bush administration uses words that are the exact opposite of what a legislative proposal is intended to do. And they base the legislation on what they call "sound science," which again is the exact opposite of what it really is. Think of the "Healthy Forests Initiative," which is a cover for the lumber industry. And the "Data Quality Act" is a misnomer if ever there was one.

The Republicans have long been notorious for putting ideology before science. The problem is that people fall for it.

Take intelligent design, for example. There is absolutely no scientific basis for this theory, yet much of the American public believes this to be a valid scientific theory for the origin of our universe. And yet they pooh-pooh global warming as just another liberal "theory."

Mooney points out that this trend away from pure science and toward ideology has been part of the Republican strategy for years. It's just that under the Bush administration it has reached new levels of absurdity. He even calls one chapter "The anti-science president."

Former President Ronald Reagan gets a spot in the anti-science hall of fame for such boondoggles as the utterly impossible and deficit-creating Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"). This is the same guy who dismissed AIDS in the 1980s and would not allow Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to even mention AIDS during the entirety of Reagan's first term.

Mooney writes: "Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, reportedly remarked of White House scientists to a visitor, 'We know what we want to do and they (scientists) will only give us contrary advice.' "

Mooney points out that the media are complicit in this, however. By reporting on fringe scientific ideas, it gives legitimacy to them, despite the lack of evidence. He suggests science writers do their own checking on the validity of scientific claims before merely regurgitating a news release at face value.

In the book, Mooney covers the hot science issues of the day, including intelligent design, global warming, endangered species and stem cell research, and shows how Republicans have twisted or downright manipulated the scientific facts to their political advantage.

"Science has managed to answer one of the most profound questions around -- where does the human species come from? -- but religious conservatives don't want anyone to know about it," Mooney writes.

"With the spread of ignorance and pseudoscience comes a decline in critical thinking -- a lapse in our collective capacity to cut through all the lies and distortions -- and determining which ideas we should trust."

 

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