Science vs the Republicans: Part 1 (the US)
I’ve previously observed that it’s now virtually impossible to be an orthodox Republican (or an Australian follower of Republican ideology) and believe in science. To be counted as one of the faithful, it’s necessary to take a party-line view on scientific issues ranging from global warming to epidemiology to evolution. One aspect of this, which I’ve pointed to in the past, is the proliferation of “junk science’ sites, which, while purporting to defend science, act like trial lawyers, selecting (and if necessary distorting) the evidence that supports the party line, while ignoring or libelling any researcher whose findings are politically inconvenient.
The eponymous Junk Science site of Stephen Milloy sets the pattern here, but it has largely been eclipsed by Tech Central Station, an Astroturf operation, run by James K. Glassman and featuring such luminaries as David Legates, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas. A pretty good list of other party-line sites can be found by looking at Stephen Milloy’s recommended links, though by some mistake the list of recommendations includes the (entirely reputable) American Meteorological Society [I didn't check every single recommendation, so there may be other similar cases, but the majority are clearly advocacy sites].
It’s possible to go over these sites and the overlapping sets of individuals involved in them, issue by issue, and point out the lies and distortions they churn out. Here, for example, is a post on Baliunas’ attempts to discredit the research of Crutzen, Sherwood and Molina on CFC’s and the ozone layer. And here’s the redoubtable Tim Lambert, nailing the dishonest manoeuvres of Iain Murray at TCS.
But at some point, it must be necessary to abandon the case-by-case approach and adopt a summary judgement about people like Milloy and sites like TCS. Nothing they say can be trusted. Even if you can check their factual claims (by no means always the case) it’s a safe bet that they’ve failed to mention relevant information that would undermine their case. So unless you have expert knowledge of the topic in question, they’re misleading, and if you have the knowledge, they’re redundant.
Of course, there’s nothing surprising about paid lobbyists twisting the truth. What’s more disturbing is the fact that the same approach dominates the Bush Administration. Admittedly, governments have never had a perfectly pure approach to science, but the distortion of the process under Bush is unparalleled, to the extent that it has produced unprecedented protests from the scientific community. Natural scientists aren’t alone in this. Economists, social scientists and even military and intelligence experts are horrified by the way in which processes that are supposed to produce expert advice have been politicised.
fn1. There are, of course, plenty of opponents of science on the left, ranging from extreme postmodernists to deep ecologists to outright irrationalists. But at least these groups are openly opposed to the whole scientific project, denouncing it as patriarchal, exploitative or whatever. The right-wing enemies of science purport to support it, while undermining the scientific method at every opportunity.
fn2. As noted in the post, Baliunas shut up very quickly once Crutzen, Sherwood and Molina won the Nobel prize for their work. Unlike most of the practitioners of junk science, she has a proper scientific job in addition to her various thinktank gigs, and doesn’t seem willing to trash her credibility as completely as she would have to do to keep up the fight on this issue.This interesting exchange on Tim Lambert’s blog illustrates the extent to which those in the junk science camp who have to turn up to work with real scientists will go to avoid being pinned down on this issue.