Bush’s War on Science

There is an excellent article in the New Yorker this week, but it is not available online. “Political Science,” by Michael Specter, investigates this administration’s unprecedentedly ideological approach to science. Happily, a Q & A session with the author is available online, and it gives a taste of the article itself:

No Administration is eager to hire people who are virulently opposed to its goals. Yet, in the past, there has usually been a general feeling that scientists are above, or at least on the sidelines of, politics, and that they should be given jobs based purely on their ability to carry them out. That is a little utopian, and, of course, it doesn’t always work that way. But this Administration, more than any in memory, seems very aggressive about making certain that its scientific advisors support its ideas. And, if they don’t, their advice is often ignored.

In the article itself, Specter recounts a conversation he had with Gerald T. Keusch, who “served at the N.I.H. as the director of the Fogarty Center, which concentrates on international health” from 1998-2003. Keusch describes this experience, which he had while trying to fill vacant seats on his board with qualified applicants:

I was told that Torsten [Wiesel] was rejected because he has signed open letters that were critical of the President . . . Geeta [Rao Gupta] was rejected because her organization is not opposed to abortion “which, we should not forget, is legal in the United States. And Jane Menken sat on the board of the Alan Guttmacher Institute . . . That is literally what was said to me. Then I received a bunch of C.V.s in the mail. One of them was from a professor emeritus of economics at an obscure college in California that I had never heard of. His entire publication record consisted of pieces in the Christian Science Monitor and a Catholic monthly that took politically charged positions. That was typical of the calibre: there was nothing scientific, nothing peer-reviewed.

This administration, for various reasons, has problems with facts. Scientists try to discover and describe facts. This conflict leads to the disastrous situation described above. The administration defines competence, not as the ability to perform a job well, but as ideological sympathy with the President. Thus Brownie can do a heckuva job, but eminently qualified scientists are not considered qualified. Disgusting.

Meanwhile, as David Ignatius points out at The Washington Post things here in the real world are deteriorating:

Every week brings new evidence that global climate change is real and that it’s advancing more rapidly than scientists had expected. This past week brought a report in Science that the Antarctic is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year. Last month researchers reported that glaciers in Greenland are melting twice as fast as previously estimated. One normally cautious scientist, Richard Alley, told The Post’s Juliet Eilperin he was concerned about the Antarctic findings, since just five years ago scientists had been expecting more ice. “That’s a wake-up call,” he said. “We better figure out what’s going on.”

Unfortunately, the real world will continue to operate in a fact-based manner, no matter what Bush wishes were true. Either we embrace science, and let real scientists do their jobs, or we continue on the path of ignorance, which leads to disaster.

If there are any conservatives out there, reading this, I’d like to take a moment and remind you: it’s Conservative Amnesty Month. You have the chance to be forgiven for the past, all it takes is voting Democratic one time.

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