The Republican War on Science, yet again
Kevin Drum points to this piece by Michael Gerson, denying the existence of a Republican War on Science. As Drum points out, Gerson doesn’t even mention the major battlegrounds like global warming denialism, creationism and intelligent design, and the Gingrich-era shutdown of the Office of Technology Assessment, focusing on a much narrower set of issues including stem cell research and abortion.
Moreover far from refuting the claim of a war between Republicanism and science, Gerson spends most of the article fighting on the Republican side. Most obviously the obligatory, and in this case, lengthy discussion of eugenics, tied in Jonah Goldberg fashion to contemporary liberalism.
There’s an even more fundamental problem here. Gerson is so focused on the political/cultural/ethical war he is fighting that he doesn’t even consider the question of whether there are any scientific facts that might be relevant to the question.
In relation to stem cells, he ignores the central point made by critics of the Republican War on Science such as Chris Mooney. This was not, as Gerson supposes, that ethical opposition to stem cell research is anti-science. It was that the Bush Administration, in pushing its side of the debate, falsified the scientific evidence regarding the feasibility of stem cell research under the rather bizarre compromise policy it pursued (for more of the details, see Stem Cell Century by Russell Korobkin. This was, and remains, Standard Operating Procedure for Republicans on all topics – science is just another arena for political debate, in which reality is what you make it.
Gerson is so enmeshed in the War on Science that the idea of science as a process of inquiry by which we might make some findings, admittedly fallible and provisional, about the reality of the world in which we live, seems totally alien to him. The idea that someone might, for example, oppose embryonic stem cell research on ethical grounds but, based on the available evidence, reject the hypothesis that research adult stem cells will provide the same benefits, simply does not enter his mental frame of reference.