A War on Science

Chris Mooney documents political abuse of science and lost opportunities to protect of our resources in Republican War on Science.

Mooney defines political abuse of science as  “any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process or scientific conclusions for political or ideological reasons.”  He puts this abuse into two categories: interfering with the scientific process and the work of scientists, and altering or slanting of scientific findings once they have been discovered.

“Most politicians aren’t scientists. Their job is to debate the meaning and implications of policies, to reach political consensus despite moral and ideological differences. In doing so, theyneed to rely on the best scientific knowledge available and proceed on the basis of that knowledge to find solutions…When scientific information becomes merely something to be manipulated to achieve a political end, the quality and integrity of the political process inevitably suffer.”

Examples of interference with science include rigging the process and harassment of individual scientists. Alteration of science has been done with misstatements, issuing of false claims, exaggerating the uncertainty, emphasizing opinions of outlier scientists, paying scientists to issue contrary opinions, and claiming tha value statements and religious doctrines have scientific credibility

The way Mooney tells the story, it started with Nixon. To bolster his case for congressional funding for supersonic transport aircraft (SST), President Nixon withheld a report by the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) which cited scientific evidence that the SST could injure the ozone layer and generate excessive noise.  When one of the PSAC scientists, Richard Garwin, testified that Congress had been given inadequate and distorted information about the  SST, Nixon dismissed that science advisory committee. Conservatives, disappointed with the treatment of Nixon, sta

President Reagan’s Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) published a report that echoed findings in a National Academy of Sciences report which pointed to industry and vehicle exhausts as the source of damaging acid rain.  The president publicly denied the science, called it uncertain, and in need of more research before any regulatory action.

When scientists disagreed with President Reagan over the feasibility of  ‘star wars,’ the idea that the US could be protected from incoming nuclear missiles with laser technology, he asked the Pentagon to withhold a negative report on star wars for months and eliminate three chapters in it under the guise of a classification review.

In the 1990s, think tanks like the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) funded by corporate interests, opposed regulations against tobacco, asbestos, pesticides, dioxin and other toxics.  Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for a ‘free market’ approach to science, and led the way to the dismantling of Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) which had provided a body of mainstream scientific information and plausible technological options that had helped Congress discuss policy options.  That paved the way for corporate interests to use their own ‘experts’ to deny mainstream science on issues such as the thinning of the ozone layer and global warming. Republican committee chairs hosted hearings with scientists whose views were well outside the consensus of scientists who engaged in peer-review to validate their findings. On ozone problems and global warming, testimony from non-experts supported corporate interests in reducing regulation. Under his leadership, the term, ‘sound science’ began to be used as a code word for pseudo-science that supports corporate profits.

President George W. Bush raised anti-science fervor to a new level. A 2004 Union of Concerned Scientists statement by 20 Nobel Laureates and 40 other scientists and leaders charged George W Bush with tampering with the scientific process, withholding of government scientific reports and misrepresenting scientific findings.  He replaced members of science advisory committees in many branches of the government with scientists who agreed with his political views, altered and withheld reports in the EPA and NASA, and otherwise used abuse and distortion of science as a political strategy.

Mooney’s book was published in 2005.


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