Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Republican War on Science

Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.
- Internal strategy document of tobacco company Brown and Williamson, circa 1969

Welcome to the antiscientific counterrevolution.
"The Republican War on Science" is nothing short of a landmark in contemporary political reporting. [Author Chris] Mooney compiles and presents an extraordinary mountain of evidence, from several different fields, to demonstrate that the conservative wing of the Republican Party has launched an unprecedented and highly successful campaign to sow widespread confusion about the conclusions of science and its usefulness in political decision making. Using methods and strategies pioneered under the Reagan administration by the tobacco industry and anti-environmental forces, an alliance of social conservatives and corporate advocates has paralyzed or obfuscated public discussion of science on a whole range of issues. Not just climate change but also stem cell research, evolutionary biology, endangered-species protection, diet and obesity, abortion and contraception, and the effects of environmental toxins have all become arenas of systematic and deliberate bewilderment.

Mooney compiles documentary evidence that many conservatives have stopped regarding science as an objective search for truth, and now treat it as yet another cynical political power struggle. A smokescreen of doubt obfuscates science with corporate-funded pseudo-studies and faith-based anti-science like "intelligent design." The effort uses disinformation to give the impression of scientific controversy where there is none.

Mooney links disparate elements of the Republican party through their interests in undermining science. Thus, global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," according to oil-soaked Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, while Sen. Rick Santorum amends the law to recognize teaching intelligent design as part of a "quality science education."

The press proves an easy foil for peddling false science, as they uncritically balance the findings of scientists with the claims of charlatans. Despite an overwhelming consensus on the science of global warming, the unsupported denials of flat-earthers gets equal time from the credulous media. Similar efforts by conservative groups, and the administration, cloud scientific findings regarding abortion, stem-cell research, missile defense, abstinence education, product safety, environmental regulation, and others.

Federal scientific agencies are increasingly staffed by political-appointees rather than qualified experts, and their once fierce independence has given way to partisan advocacy. Meanwhile the administration gives the impression of embracing science while in exercise stifling or ignoring findings it doesn't agree with.

Mooney documents an "immense stealth campaign" to undermine science through regulatory subtleties, giving industry some of its biggest victories against oversight. The two sentence "Data Quality Act," inserted into an appropriation bill, gives industry the ability to tie up most regulations in an endless review process that may be distorted with "junk sciemce." These changes are designed to disable clean air and water efforts, and to dismantle safeguards aimed at providing Congress with unbiased advice.

Challenging scientific consensus is an essential step in the advancement of science itself. Muddying scientific consensus to advance faith or profit distorts reality and blinds us to health and safety dangers.

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