Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chris Mooney at JHU

Chris Mooney, the author of The Republican War on Science was at Johns Hopkins University today and gave a brief talk and book signing. I had just finished reading his book, so I was glad for the chance to hear him speak. His book provides a very good overview of the current anti-science stance of the Bush Administration and the conservative movement. He argues that the Bush anti-science stance is systematic and a unique departure from the historical relationship between government and science.

Chris is an excellent speaker, with a great sense of humor, but without loosing sight of the seriousness of the topic. If you haven't had a chance to read the book, I would strongly recommend hearing him speak, if you ever get the chance. The topic is important and anyone interested in our current political climate should be familiar with his work.

His talk echoes the issues in his book naturally, but he also brings the issues up to date with some recent examples of the Republican anti-science stance. He makes no bones about the fact that his position is clearly political. Having said that he does recognize that all political factions have, at one time or another, acted counter to the best scientific evidence. His argument is that the current Administration is systematically antiscientific. In past cases, one political faction would oppose the scientific community on one issue or another, but accept the prevailing scientific opinion on most issues. Chris's argument is that this Administration will oppose good science on any issue where it disagrees politically.

He also makes clear that he takes the position that science acting independent of the political process is a valuable thing and that the current Republican leadership has decided to take the opposite position, that science should always be forced to conform to political desires. Chris clearly feels that this position is bad. This means that his basic position (favoring the independence of science) is apolitical.

He says his central thesis is that the current conservative movement consists of two major constituencies 1) regulated businesses and 2) religious conservatives who both have a fundamental distrust of science. I think that this is very true. Regulated businesses have an opposition to the scientific results that can add costs to operating their business and religious conservatives have a theological opposition to the idea that truths (even if only about the natural world) are determined by observation, evidence, and reason rather than by internal, passionate belief.

Chris did have some hopeful news. He reported that there is some movement in congress to restore the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) which provided invaluable scientific advice to congress. Even many conservatives are starting to realize that disbanding it was a mistake. While the current congressional leadership is not likely to let a bill restoring the OTA through, there is some hope that there is broad support for the agency.

I will have more to say on this in another post. In summary, his thesis is an important one to understand and his talk is a good one. I urge everyone to read the book and to hear Chris speak.

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