Republican War on Science, yet again

Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, a Bush appointee, has told a Congressional committee that “top officials in the Bush administration repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.”

This isn’t news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but it does demonstrate, yet again, that it’s impossible to be pro-Republican and pro-science at the same time. This isn’t just a matter of the Bush administration. Every important element of the Republican base is anti-science, as are all the main pro-Republican thinktanks, blogs and so on. The issues differ from group to group (the religious right focuses on evolution and stem cells, libertarians on global warming and passive smoking, the business base on more specific environmental and public health regulation) but all of them use the same kinds of arguments. The debating tricks used by global warming delusionists have been taken straight from the creationist playbook. More importantly, all of them take for granted the view that science is inherently political, and that what matters is getting the politics right.

The Surgeon-General has been a target of these guys ever since the 1964 report stating that smoking is a health hazard. Leading anti-science shill Steven Milloy (then with Cato, now with Fox News and CEI) wrote an opinion piece for the WSJ back in 1998 calling for the office to be abolished, while neglecting to mention that he was on the Phillip Morris payroll at the time.

16 thoughts on “Republican War on Science, yet again

  1. JQ,

    Sorry but that’s a nonsense claim – “it’s impossible to be pro-Republican and pro-science at the same time”, and does you little credit.

    I’m not American – but if I was, I would probably vote Republican. Not that I like Bush – I think he’s a dangerous idiot – but I’m a free-market, capitalist Libertarian in my views. I’m also VERY pro-science.

    You can’t pick a few examples of conflict between Republicans and science and then make the outrageous claim that it’s impossible to be both pro-republican and pro-science. Being pro-Republican doesn’t mean agreeing with all Republican policies and being pro-science doesn’t mean agreeing with every wide-held scientific view.

    More balance please.

  2. I don’t know any Aussie libertarians that have an issue with the arguments that passive smoke is bad for you. What they argue is that if you own a pub you should decide if smoking is permitted. Your house, your rules even if it is a public house. It is a question of property rights not a question about the science.

    Drinking beer and rock climbing also put your health at risk but so far we still let people decide for themselves.

  3. Andrew, being pro-science does mean, at a minimum, not rejecting generally held scientific views on the basis of wishful thinking.

    Being VERY pro-science means not voting for an obviously anti-science government. The examples I picked aren’t isolated – Bush is anti-science across the board, and the entire mental attitude of the Administration and its supporters is antiscientific.

    So, I think you need to clarify your thoughts on this.

  4. That’s an incredibly broad-sweeping statement ‘Bush is anti-science across the board”. I don’t want to start defending Bush – as I said, the guy’s a dangerous idiot – but that just seems a silly thing to say. How can anyone be anti-science across the board unless you’re thinking about living in a cave. Science permeates absolutely everything we do from medicine, to infrastructure, to missile technology…. the world stops without science. Bush is an idiot but he doesn’t want us all living in caves.

    On your global warning question, I don’t reject gernally held scientific views – I embrace them. I also have very strong ‘faith’ that science will provide the answer to global warning. I don’t know whether that will be a break-through in solar technology, clean coal, electric cars, genetically modified anti-flatulance grass or whatever. The capacity for human scientific progress to provide answers to problems is emormous. Just think about where the world was just 100 years ago and how far we’ve advanced today.

    My view is that in 100 years, historians will look back on the late 20th/early 21st century as a period where humans pumped out dangerous levels of C02, but thanks to (insert scientific breakthrough here) the problem was brought under control. In 100 years we’ll look back on the quaint and primitive lifestyle of today in the same way that we do about life in the 1900s.

  5. i read the argument to be: politics trumps science, in the bush regime. whatever his personal views, bush holds office because those americans who get their world view from the front end of the bible support him actively. he, and the party must therefore reflect these views. to be a republican is to regard victory at the polls as more important than mere material truth. this is true of any politician, but the repubs are lumbered with the creationists.

    when science is allowed to set policy, it’s not because it’s true, but because it doesn’t offend.

  6. There’s a huge difference between being pro-technology and being pro-science. People like George Gilder, Glenn Reynolds, Tech Central Station and the whole technolibertarian movement illustrate this. They are pro-technology in a cargo cult fashion, but are happy to ditch specific scientific findings they find inconvenient, and fundamentally hostile to scientific method.

  7. al loomis,
    And the Democrats are lumbered with unionists, anti-free traders, socialists, trial lawyers and various other interest groups.
    Shock, Horror – Politicians pander to their supporters!
    Where is the news here?

  8. Nope – I don’t think there is. Methinks technology and science are very much inter-related. How can you be pro-technology but anti-science? You can’t have technology without science.

    Anyway – this is a silly debate.

    1) It is perfectably reasonable and indeed desirable to be able to support a political party without agreeing with all their policies. To say that it is impossible to be pro-republican and pro-science is a logical fallacy. Just because Joe doesn’t like Fred – doesn’t mean that I can’t be friends with both.

    2) To say that someone in the modern age is anti-science is also strange. I doubt that Bin Laden is totally anti-science and he’d like us all to be living under a pre-industrial age Sharia law regime.

  9. This ‘Republicans hate science’ story is good ideology, but is hard to sustain. While I did enjoy Mooney’s book (and the CT seminar) the biggest complaint scientists seem to have is that they don’t get enough respect. They still get heaps of dollars (in the US). Looking at US data for Federal Outlays for General Science, Space and Other Technology it looks like funding has increased since Mr Bush became President. That is hard to reconcile with the republicans hate science argument we hear so much about.

  10. It’s not that they don’t fund it, but rather there is a massive concentration of ideologues who, when reality conflicts with their views, chose to disbelieve reality.

  11. That doesn’t make sense. Why fund something you don’t believe? Do you really think the US Republicans are that dumb?

    The increased funding for science is totally inconsistent with this ‘war’. To the extent public science maximises budget, they are doing very well. To the extent they want to maximise influence, perhaps, not so well. Yet it is hard to explain why less influential people are getting more money.

  12. As I said a few comments up, Republicans love technology but hate science. Andrew and others may regard this as nonsensical (and be right to do so) but you only have to look at examples like George Gilder (nanotech booster, creationist, GW delusionist) to see that it’s possible. TCS has an entire website proving the point.

  13. “Why fund something you don’t believe?” asked Sinclair. Q has already provided a response to Sinclair on this, but I would add that you might well fund something you don’t believe in because you know that others do and that, without their support (or, at least, unless they do not support the other team), you won’t get re-elected. It seems fairly probable, for instance, that Howard hasn’t believed in a lot of the aboriginal programs that he’s been funding for the last ten years. He knew, however, that in the political climate that has existed up until recently, he would lose support if he terminated it.

  14. John – I’m happy to believe that Americans prefer technology to science, or the applied to the theoretical. I’m not sure that is a ‘Republican’ as opposed to an ‘American’ thing. The US does have a comparative advantage in technology and a preference for tech (or applied) explains why they are so aggressive on intellectual property. Watching the new Congress will give us a feel for how much of a Republican thing this is.

    Tom (and John) – that explaination only goes so far. Sure they might not cut science funding to zero but why expand funding for science and not, say, just for technology. They could have let science funding wither of the vine, but eyeballing that data suggests an increase in basic research funding.

  15. SD, I think we’d have to go deep into the categories of measurement underlying the table you have linked to make progress on arriving at a considerate conclusion on the relative funding of science versus technology. We also might want to know whether the culture rewards curiosity driven research or not.


  16. Pr Q says:

    it’s impossible to be pro-Republican and pro-science at the same time.

    Thats a bit of a stretch. The sci-tech community tends to be a bit more right-wing, and hence Republican, than other parts of the intellectual community. EE Times reports the generally pro-Republican voting tendecies of sci-tecchie communuty:

    engineers tend to be more conservative than the overall population. Respondents in the military/aerospace field overwhelmingly said they will pick the president over Kerry, 64 percent to 27 percent.

    Tecchies are more knowledgable about science than non-tecchies. So it is wrong to classify conservative engineers as non-scientific.

    But it is uncomfortably close to the truth when talking about the Bush admin and its camp followers. The policy making engine of the Republican party is in general not part of the reality-based community.

    There is a small reality based community of “Republicans who know what they are talking about” in the foreign policy field. Oil execs, spies, generals, guys like that.

    But the Bushies want power, not truth. This is what Sailer calls “the Foucault-ification of Republican ideologues”:

    In French postmodern thought, there’s no such thing as “truth,� just power. More and more, Bush is dependent upon “Fundamentalist Post-Modernism,� the belief that belief is all that matters and that reality is trivial compared to having a positive mental attitude.

    It would be a mistake to identify the Right with the Republican Party, as the recent rebuff to the Republican immigration amnesty policy shows. And the Right shows a much better grasp of the science underlying the Culture War than the Left with its social constructivist nonsense.

    The Right’s criticism of Leftwing delusionism and denialism on human nature and culture is generally informed by a better understanding of science. Leftwingers have decided to avoid or condemn socio-biology and related fields because it is politically convenient.

    Chris Mooney, the author of the book whose title was the inspiration of this blog, conceded the Left expresses a strong anti-science tendency when one of its sacred cows looks to be getting slaughtered:

    Let’s be fair: those on the political left have undoubtedly abused science…groups have occasionally allowed ideology to usurp fact…

    Topics such as the genetic underpinnings of human behavior have often gone unstudied out of a “general left-of-center sensibility that anything having to do with genes is bad.�

    The Left deserves to crow about its better understanding of science. But it should also engage in little soul searching over the lies and delusions behind politicaly correct anti-science.

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