Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Republican War on Science, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City

I finally had the time to finish Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science. Like everyone says, it's a very important and useful book. While it may be a little inappropriate to compare RWOS to a book I've only heard about but haven't read, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, I was stuck with how both books reference the Bush Administration's insistence on ideological screening of people for job positions that should be apolitical.

I thought the Bush insistence on "conservatives only" for Iraq reconstruction jobs had a clear cause. They refused to allow companies from countries that opposed the Iraq war to compete for reconstruction contracts, and they fought the UN's initial efforts to get involved in Iraq, all because they felt that spoils belong to the winner. It was conservatives who had the brilliant idea of invading Iraq, so non-conservatives had no right to participate in the "spoils" of reconstructing it.

Same thing with science. Conservatives won the 2000 and 2004 election, and so to them belong the spoils of manipulating science. The alternative idea, that they were elected to do the job of serving the voters and their responsibility is to do the best job possible, seems to have escaped them.

A few other thoughts on Mooney's book:

He mentions Dr. David Hager's abuse of science while leaving out Hager's personal scandals. Mooney may be above mentioning that, but I'm not.

On page 253 of the paperback edition, Mooney writes that given the evidence, "we can infer that the Bush Adminstration almost certainly had politicized science to an unprecedented degree." While I think he's right, it's a hard statement to prove, going beyond a bunch of anecdotal observations to actual conclusions. After all, Roger Pielke Jr. put together a bunch of anecdotes saying the media and others overexaggerated the threat from global warming. Did he prove his case?

I think Mooney's best evidence is the number of prominent Republicans he found who criticize the Bush war on science. His second best piece though is on page 255, where he found that both Bush and Clinton took a similar position on an issue that wasn't supported by the science (exchanging needles with drug addicts to prevent HIV). Bush lied about the science, Clinton didn't. Anecdotes like that are powerful evidence, especially in the absence of counter-examples.

Mooney says early in the book that he's not considering funding issues. I would disagree with that decision - if an administration is abusing some science while generously funding science in general, it might be hard to say that it's worse than another administration that only starved science. Still, abusing science is done either for religious or business reasons, and either one involves important societal issues. From global warming to women's reproductive choices, the Bush Administration is screwing up important science, and their general support for science funding doesn't overcome that.

Finally, my one stylistic criticism is that as a visual learner, I could use something eye-catching to reinforce the text - graphics, charts, tables, or even a list of the many repeat characters and their roles. Mooney has another book coming out, Storm World, covering a subject ideal for visual aids, so hopefully we'll get some eye candy inthat book.

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