ANNOUNCER: This is a production of Cornell University.
RON: There are notes here already for me, but unfortunately, they're not for me. They're just-- somebody else is going to read them. I was going to wait just a few seconds. I'll make a few announcements, because this building is very difficult to find coming from the Arts Quad. You get lost in the bowels of Rockefeller, and it's impossible to get out. So I'm sure there'll be a trickle of people later on.
So a welcome to all of you to the forum on science and politics. This is sponsored by the Department of Government and in particular, the Ben and Rhoda Belnick Fund for government studies at Cornell. It's a special seminar in the provo seminar series, and it's also sponsored by the Institute for the Social Sciences at Cornell.
And particularly, the Theme Project for 2006, 2009, which is Contentious Knowledge: Science, Social Science, and Social Protest. If you're interested in that project-- or social movements, I'm sorry. If you're interested in that project, we have a list outside to become an affiliate, which means that you will be notified by email of events like this.
And our next event is a workshop, October 4 through 6, called Contention in Knowledge: Social Movements in the Politics of Science. And the purpose of that workshop is to work through concretely a kind of intersection of two different literatures, the literature on social movements, which has a lot about framing and knowledge and the presentation of the world in particularistic ways.
It's sort of a challenge to settle science sometimes to make it less settled, or a movement to make unsettled science more settled. But that use of science by social movements and the involvement of scientists in social movements will be the focus of this workshop. That's October 4 through 6. It's on the web. And the web is socialsciences.cornell.edu, fairly simply.
Now Chris Mooney is to be our speaker this morning, and Chris just wrote me a little bit about himself. And he has a book, Republican War on Science, that has such a great cover that we put it on the announcement of this event. So you can go to that to see what Chris Mooney is up to.
He is the Washington correspondent for Seed magazine. In 2005, he wrote The Republican War on Science, which is a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He's also the author of Storm World, which I just bought recently. This is a new book, 2007. It's published in the Best American Science Writing series. And he runs a blog called The Intersection.
So that's Chris Mooney. He's going to be our main speaker. The title, as you see before you, The War on Science: What Have We Learned? Chris is sitting in the front row.
When Chris finishes his talk, we will introduce the distinguished panel that you've already seen on the poster, and that is Kurt Gottfried from Physics, Ted Lowi from Government, John Shields from Government at University of Colorado. John's coming back to join us after being here last year. Janice Thies from Crop and Soil Sciences, and Steve Hilgartner, who's professor and I believe chair now of Science and Technology Studies.
So that's the panel. It's a little bit tight quarters up here, so after Chris finishes, the panel will come up here. They will have some brief comments. And then what we really hope to do is to get the audience engaged in this.
You know, science and politics, Mahatma Gandhi once said that those who suggest separating politics and religion understand neither politics nor religion. And there's a sense in which that's true of science and politics. It's a minefield for all of us. Scientists don't like to talk about politics, because they really prefer that as an epistemological system, you have to stay separate from interest, and from the sort of horse trading and positioning that is inherent in politics.
Politics is about who gets what and how, and that has enormous implications for science, who gets what and how. But also, the output of science has a lot of implications for the way that politics works. So scientists are nervous about entering this minefield.
Cornell is in some ways an exception. We've had scientists over the years that have taken a deep interest in the public implications of science, and have pushed that envelope in, I think, quite positive ways.
On the other hand, social scientists are reluctant to talk about science, because we would like much cleaner answers and much more definitive answers than scientists typically will provide. Much science is in process. It's continually being revised. And many political scientists especially are just-- they feel a little bit foolish about talking about things they don't really understand. So the levels of scientific illiteracy make, I think, all of us a little bit reluctant to talk about these things.
I mean, when Janice Thies is sitting in my class, I've sort of been worried. Did I say allele instead of gene? You know, I mean, you just have to be really worried about your lack of full grasp of the stuff that you're dealing with. So these two kinds of fields of inquiry are inherently intersecting in an nomothetic sense. But at the same time, they are separated largely by a sociology of knowledge. And we understand why that is.
Chris is going to today take us through a first step in approaching a better understanding of politics and science by talking about partisan science. There's a sense in which partisan science is the easiest and most obvious first step. Regimes have interests. Those interests are portrayed through their appointment policies, their treatment of the scientific expertise that comes back to them. And what they do with the science that they get, the science that they have.
So partisan science, which Chris Mooney has documented very nicely in his book on The Republican War on Science, is the end of a spectrum. The rest of the spectrum moves into the embeddedness of knowledge and social processes, social interests, social conflicts, which constitutes the intersection of science and politics more generally.
In this, you think about things like the Frankenfood debate internationally. Four nations have now refused food aid, because it was poisonous. The same stuff that you feed your kids for breakfast every morning. And so it's a global rift on the issue of, is this stuff poisonous and it will kill you, or is this stuff pretty much as safe as anything else that we eat?
So these kinds of rifts, or the rift on AIDS. The New Yorker recently had an article on the denialists, about at high levels of government, the denial of causes of AIDS or even the reality of AIDS, but rather looking to cures and try to get rid of Western science, corporate finance, colonial science, imperialist science. Science claims for itself no geography, but these kind of characterizations have been important in the battle against the Western science on AIDS and an attempt to create an authentic, local knowledge, which is contradictory of Western science, colonial science, which most would just think of as science, full stop.
So the world has become much more complicated in this political framing of science. And what counts as settled knowledge, what counts as unsettled knowledge with very important political consequences. So I will give the floor to Chris Mooney, who is going to inform us. And then the panel will come up here afterwards.
Oh, I forgot to say, the law and society concentration has a signup sheet out here. If you sign this, you get some kind of brownie points. But I was asked to announce that, so I just did.
CHRIS MOONEY: Thanks. It's great to be here. I want to think Ron for bringing me out. I want to thank Cornell, ISS, the Department of Government, everyone else who's been involved in sponsoring this.
It's really a great honor to be here, not only where you conduct very important scientific research, but were studies of science communication and science and technology studies are also-- you know, this is a hub for all of that work. So I'm aware of where I am. It is for me an auspicious time to be giving this talk, because it happens to be my 30th birthday today. So--
Thanks. I'm ready to be called to account for all the trouble that I've caused. And the panelists who will follow me are certainly the people to do that. So I'm waiting for that.
The talk today, the title is The War On Science: What We Have Learned, but really, the talk is a summation of what I have learned from doing two books on politics and science in the last couple of years. And I want to sort of-- I think you'll see how that is as I continue.
So roughly two years ago, the first of them came out, The Republican War on Science. And at the outset of talks, I like to point out, there was no conscious intention on the part of the illustrator here to construct a visual pun which turns upon my last name in the image of the elephant.
Yeah. We only really caught onto that later. Similarly, no conscious intention to echo the cover image of another popular book that I always am recommending to people. So again, you know, we really only--
--we really only noticed that later. You know, I use that joke repeatedly. It never seems to get old, but then neither does this idea that there's a, quote, "war on science." The narrative of the war on science keeps advancing.
In July, we heard testimony from Richard Carmona, the former Bush administration surgeon general, and he was standing before Congress with other surgeon generals saying, well, they wouldn't let me speak out or do reports about pretty much anything political, be it stem cells, be it abstinence education, plan B emergency contraception. They wouldn't let him do something on secondhand smoke. They wouldn't even let him talk about mental health problems in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
And the other surgeon generals Koop and Satcher said, yeah, we had a lot of run-ins with politics, but we admit, you've had it a lot worse. And that's been the story repeatedly when you ask people who've served in previous administrations about this administration. They say, yeah. It's worse.
And Carmona's testimony only, I think, adds to the now mountain of evidence that there is something uniquely bad about this government from the war in Iraq to the issue of climate change. George W. Bush and his administration don't seem to like contrary facts, contrary analysis that contradict what it is that they have already decided they want to do anyway. And when the contrary facts come riding up, the administration always, or a lot of the time, seems to opt for shooting the messenger rather than listening to the message.
The behavior is outrageous, and has prompted outrage. And the issues on which it has occurred are not, most of them, particularly murky. In fact, the science on them is largely settled. And as I documented, we've seen indefensible attacks on mainstream accepted science, on issues like evolution, global warming, embryonic stem cell research, pretty much anything having anything to do with sex.
The problems, they began-- they go back to the start of the administration, Bush's August 2001 stem cell speech. He promised more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines would be available for research under his policy.
This was just plain false. We now know it was false. And furthermore, we know that with some careful vetting of the information, Bush would have and should have known it was false. He set us off on the wrong foot, and he's been defending this policy that's based upon misinformation that, in fact, constrained science much more than he promised. He's been fighting changes to that policy ever since.
Pretty soon, we saw many more abuses in case studies that I and many others have documented on issues ranging from endangered species protections to global warming to sex education. There is a huge number of cases at this point, and there's no way I can run through them all. But I will give you some examples categorized by type.
So one of the classic types of interference with science that we saw by the Bush administration was political people editing scientific documents. So here's an internal Environmental Protection Agency memo originally exposed, I believe, by the National Wildlife Federation, and the subject of a front page New York Times story in which the EPA's experts are complaining that the White House, two of its offices, have made major edits to the climate change section of this report on the environment that we're working on, indicating that, quote, "no further changes may be made."
If you go down to point 2, the EPA people say, well, these haven't been exactly small changes. They've changed it so much that the report no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change. And this is kind of the canonical example of political interference with science. Political people telling the scientists what to say, telling them to say something wrong, and then telling them that they cannot change it. That's one of the type of thing that we've seen in numerous cases.
Different abuses have involved interfering with scientists' ability to speak out, to share their knowledge with the media, with the broader public. And in many cases, the public is, of course, funding this knowledge, because these are taxpayer-paid scientists.
And everyone knows the story, I think, of James Hansen. It's the most famous story, but there have been many others. Hansen has gotten very concerned about possible catastrophic global warming if we reach a temperature threshold such that we'll be committed to the melting of Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets. He decided people needed to know about this. And NASA tried to shut him down and failed.
But other scientists in the administration have also found themselves muzzled, especially when they've been offered national media exposure or the possibility thereof. And I talk about another case study less famous in my new book, Storm World. So that's another way in which politics has suppressed or interfered with science in this administration.
And it's not just meddling with scientists or reports, right? It's corrupting the broader scientific advisory structure of the government. In fact, some of the earliest complaints involved stacking of scientific advisory committees, really subterranean bodies within the government, but they were being politically tilted. And then a lot of other science politics scandals erupted later. It wasn't just advisory committees, which are little known.
But in fact, advice to the president, I would argue, was also skewed. We now know that Bush actually met with the anti-global warming novelist Michael Crichton, and they had a discussion about climate change. And reportedly, this reaffirmed Bush's, quote, [INAUDIBLE] of views on the subject," which may have since changed. But I find this pretty outrageous.
In 2001, the president actually asked, as a president ought to, the National Academies, what's up with this global warming thing? And they reported back in a month, duh. It's happening now. We're causing it. Sea levels rising, temperatures rising, all the rest. What any National Academy will report back at this point in time.
On science, I think that it's pretty obvious that Bush would probably be listening to the National Academies rather than novelists whose critiques are not actually of the mainstream science. They're not actually in the scientific literature.
Of course, we don't know exactly what Bush and Crichton discussed. And I like to let my mind run wild and imagine some other sci-fi topics that they might have talked about. And I'm not going to put a dinosaur up here for you, but I wonder if any of you are familiar with spoon bending. Have you heard of this phenomenon? You know, the spoon bent-- it doesn't really bend, but it's a magic trick.
Well, Michael Crichton is into this, and he's written-- it's on his website. "I think spoon bending is not psychic or bugga-bugga. It's something pretty normal, but we don't understand it, so we deny its existence." And now my point is just that this is Bush's source of science advice.
Well, why do these repeated scandals collectively add up to a Republican war on science? Or you know, as Ron mentioned, why are we talking about partisan science? I think it's well captured in a cartoon from Tom Toles, Washington Post 2004, talking about this very subject.
And look at how he breaks it down. The two bottom registers are evolution and-- two bottom cartoons, essentially, are evolution and stem cell research, OK? These are the issues that religious conservatives care about.
Then the two at the top, the motivation for messing with science, is not religious. It's not moral. It's economic. And we've got someone either taking or giving campaign cash. And I like the ambiguity there. And then saying an industrial discharge is safe. And then we've got something about deficits that doesn't really fit the science picture, but clearly, again, this is economics.
Well, that's the breakdown. If you look at the areas in which there was abuse or misuse of science in the Bush administration, it largely fits into one of these two categories. Either science is being attacked to serve an economic motivation or it's being attacked to serve a religious or moral obligation.
And those in turn are two key constituencies of the Republican Party. There are people who put Bush in power. Religious conservatives on the one hand and corporate America, big business, regulated industry, whatever you want to call it on the other hand.
And so this is what I really tried to bring out in The Republican War on Science, because others, the Union of Concerned Scientists especially did an amazing job compiling all the outrage stories which had originally been reported largely by the media. But what I did that I think others didn't do was explore the political dynamic here and explore how the current situation, with such a bad science-politics relationship, is new in history, but where it sprang from.
Because we have seen politics-science scandals in the past. We saw, for example, the Star Wars fight in the Reagan administration, to name one really big one. But I would argue we have never seen so many zigzagging at us so frequently. And never before has politics and science become, I think, such a meta issue that it has, in fact, defined the administration.
Well, what are the reasons for this happening now? There's not one reason. They are many, and they are varied. One of the most important is that the Republican Party itself has changed over time. It has become the party of the modern conservative movement in America. It may change back. But it is not the middle way party that it was once perhaps under Eisenhower, even under Nixon.
And so Republicans are comprised differently than they once were. And that plays itself out when it comes to staffing the government once you elect a Republican administration.
In fact, the case studies of science abuse in the Bush administration all have a similar dynamic, or almost all have a similar dynamic in which they pit government scientists working at expert federal agencies against political appointees who have been installed in those agencies, and who are frequently lording it over the scientists and telling them what they can do. And then you get a whistleblower. The scientists can't take it anymore. The information comes out. The media leaps on it.
And in fact, I learned after the book came out but in time for the paperback that a Princeton political scientist named David Lewis had actually done a study of the number of political appointees, and found that compared with the end of the Clinton administration, there is 300 or more total political appointees in the Bush government than there were at the end of the last administration.
So these people are political. They are responsive to the base. They are responsive to religious conservatives or to regulated industry. They know what they want, and so of course they're coming into conflict with longtime career government scientists on some of these issues.
But one interesting question is, why do these Bush appointees or Bush officials think they know better than top scientists? Is it pure arrogance? And I think that there is some arrogance, but I don't think that entirely explains what happened.
Because over time, the political right in this country has actually generated its own group of, quote, "scientific experts," many of them based not at universities, but based at political think tanks. And this, in fact, is also a trend that has a well-documented history. Here's a quotation from Irving Kristol, a prominent conservative thinker, '78, saying, "Corporate philanthropy, should not be, cannot be disinterested."
Essentially, you know, they're regulating the environment now, they're regulating-- you know, all these consumer protections statutes. Business is sick of this. We'll go out and invest in some experts who will battle back against the government regulatory structure, or who will battle back against the academic scientists who are providing the information that is the basis for regulatory action. And they went out and they did that. They invested in their own sources of expertise.
Here's another quotation from Bruce Bimber, great book, The Politics of Expertise in Congress, '96. "At the end of World War II, just a handful of private policy think tanks at work in DC. But by the end of the Cold War, over 100, the largest spending tens of millions annually on the analysis of policy problems." American Enterprise Institute, one of the earliest in '43. Heritage Foundation, also very influential, founded in '73. And there are many, many, many others who are constantly involved in these science-politics fights in Washington.
This think tank infrastructure plays a critical role in these political scientific debates, because what it does is it allows for an end run, an expertise end run around the leading universities and the leading scientific journals. The right-- whoever wants to, really, can cite their own scientists, their own experts, and use that, quote, "expertise" to push towards a political victory of some type. In fact, it is possible to use this expertise to a large extent to create your own reality.
And so of course, inevitably, there is a conservative book that is diametrically opposed in its viewpoint to mine, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. And it is promoted by conservative think tanks, and it is published by a conservative press, because the right not only has its own sources of expertise. It also has its own media.
And let me just tell you how diametrically opposed this book by Tom Bethell is. It attacks evolution, it denies human-caused global warming change, and it even questions the idea that there is a significant AIDS epidemic in Africa. In fact, the author has previously promoted the ideas of those who deny that HIV causes AIDS.
And we're still getting warmed up here, because he has also, although not in this book, cited the views of, quote, "dissident physicists" in order to call into question Einstein's theory of relativity. Although to be fair, he I think has modified his view. He may now concede that Einstein is onto something.
If you want to hear the other side, go to the bookstore. I don't recommend that you do. But if you do, pick up The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. And you'll see something interesting. The top cover line there, which some of you probably can't see, in the bookstore if you get the book, it's going to say this. "Liberals have hijacked science for long enough. It's time to set the record straight." It's not something I agree with, but again, you know, the conservatives and the conservative people who buy books from Regnery Press, which publishes this, probably agree with that very much.
But if you're me and you knew this book was coming out before it actually came out, and you went on Amazon, you downloaded a JPG of the cover image, you put it on your desktop and put it in your PowerPoint, it's interesting. Before publication, it used to say something different. It used to say, "Liberals have hijacked science long enough. Now it's our turn."
And then you can see it right there. I report. You decide.
So I agree with Ron. The Bush administration represents an extreme when it comes to misusing science in US politics, but its uniqueness is a matter of degree, not a matter of kind. I think it has reached this extreme because of many trends merging, and those include some of which I've mentioned already.
The Republican Party's less moderate. We had a Republican-run Congress for most of the Bush administration. They were not exactly holding their feet to the fire. We had this growth of think tanks and providing contrary expertise consistent with a political point of view. But the president himself, he's not someone that's known for, you know, being really, really intellectually interested in scientific topics anyway.
But it's not to say that the left has never misused science. Of course, it has. Here's John Edwards on the campaign trail, saying something he really shouldn't have in 2004. "If we do the work we can do in this country, the work we'll do when Kerry's elected, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of their wheelchair and walk again because of our stem cell policy."
And you know, scientists who study these cells will say, they're really exciting. We're going to learn a lot about basic science, maybe cure someday. But we can't promise specific cures to specific diseases like paralysis on anybody's timeline, certainly not a political timeline. John Edwards is misusing science here. It happens.
And there are also science issues that are a lot murkier, less clear cut, less, quote, "settled" than some of the ones where the Bush administration was really flagrantly out of touch with the scientific consensus. One of those issues, which I wrote a whole book about. What's the relationship between hurricanes and global warming? How will they change? Have they changed already?
Really complicated stuff. In fact, the book that I did ends up being a case study of what I would call science at high wind speeds following Hurricane Katrina. And negotiating a scientific battle over what's going on with the atmosphere and the oceans amid a media feeding frenzy when scientists don't agree and have only really just begun to look at a subject in depth can be a very messy affair.
The Los Angeles Times put it this way, watching science in action with scientists fighting. It's "not always elegant and not always even particularly effective. But to paraphrase Churchill on democracy, it's surely better than any of the alternatives."
And so it is easy to demonize the Bush administration. But if the goal is achieving a healthy relationship between science, politics, and society, the real scandal is perhaps not just the Bush administration, but that we reached a low in this relationship at the time when we should have been reaching a high, because science is more relevant to decision making probably now than ever before.
And so to recover, to get to a high that we need to be at, I think we need to deal with some tough questions that are not just electoral, questions like, what's the role that science should be playing in a democracy? How should politicians use scientific information, which is often characterized by high levels of uncertainty?
How do we set up the game of science policymaking so that scientists and politicians who often speak very different languages find a lingua franca, a zone in which they can communicate? And what is the role of the media and the role of scientists themselves in translating their complex knowledge into a format that policymakers can use?
Phrased in these ways, and when you look at it in this broader sense, politicians are not the only guilty parties here when it comes to failures of translation of scientific knowledge in the way that it ought to translate. For example, the media is a huge problem, and I've critiqued media's treatment of science repeatedly. You get, first of all, phony balance where the media forces everything into a 50/50 story, one side versus the other side.
Even something like evolution where there really is not a scientific other side. But here is The York Dispatch covering the Dover evolution trial in 2005 in Pennsylvania, giving a point-counterpoint between intelligent design theory and the theory of evolution as if they are in some way on equal footing. You get a lot of this from the press. This is obviously misleading.
And another problem with the way the media treats science is just the volume of attention to a scientific subject period. Pew data, I think, from earlier this year shows that really plainly. When the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report came out, global warming, according to Pew, was 5% of the news hole and 11% when measured in terms of interest. But by the next week, global warming had been knocked completely out of the top stories because of the Super Bowl, the death of Anna Nicole Smith, and the bizarre story of an astronaut love triangle. So--
--this is the way it works, right? And it's not just the media's deficiencies, although they're numerous. But scientists themselves have problems not with the information usually, but problems with communicating it to and through the media and to policymakers. This is, again, a quotation that I use in the book, Storm World. When the big fight over hurricanes and global warming erupted, it prompted some soul searching on the part of a group of meteorologists who were not ready for the storm, the media storm that erupted.
And as they later wrote, "Even senior scientists are ill-prepared for their first major experience with mixing science, politics, and the media." So there's a lot of problems besides political misuse of science.
Well, where does that leave us? The 2006 election happened. Republicans were thrown out of Congress. Bush is getting to be a lame duck. As a result, a time of outrage over a misuse of science has since, I think, morphed into a time for solutions.
In fact, I would argue that the image of the pachyderm posterior has taken on a different meaning. It used to mean, god, this elephant just won't listen, you know? It just won't budge. But when Time magazine put it on the cover, it meant, this elephant is walking off of the political stage.
And so it is a time to talk about solutions, and Democrats in control of Congress are fighting back. Henry Waxman has been holding hearings about political abuse of science. Presumably going to keep holding them. The surgeon general hearing was one of Waxman's hearings.
We're talking about restoring scientific advice to Congress, the Office of Technology Assessment. It was done away with, unfortunately, in '95. And a number of different fixes. Scientific integrity legislation to head off some of the worst abuses, saying political people cannot edit reports like this, saying that we have to achieve a balance on scientific advisory committees. So forth and so on.
But I think we need much more than legislation. I think it's bigger than that. First, it would be nice to have more politicians who actually take science seriously in the fullest meaning of that term. More people, I guess, like Rush Holt, the physicist who represents Princeton, New Jersey in Congress whose constituents drive around with bumper stickers reading, My Congressmen is a Rocket Scientist.
I'd like to see more of that, because there's still more to address. Obviously, you know, I can't even begin to talk about the science education issues that are so important. But again, the media plays a key role here.
And what about scientists' own role and their own behavior, and perhaps even their own responsibility to communicate their knowledge? I think that's implicated when we ask ourselves, why does misinformation succeed?
Why could the political right, to a large extent, create its own reality, its own sources of expertise, and use the media's weaknesses to spread think tank science, and to make it catch hold? To such an extent that whenever I'm on the radio and global warming comes up, I get callers in 10 to one proportion at least who are still skeptical of the fact that it's human caused.
There's so much misinformation out there. What are scientists doing to combat it? Well, the media has a big role. It's disseminating this stuff, and we should criticize them. The fragmented media, should criticize those that will even listen to criticism.
But also, it's partly a result of the fact that scientists themselves often don't understand how the media works or how people make up their minds on complex subjects. And this is another issue that I've tried to address as I've continue to think about these science-politics issues.
Matthew Nesbitt and I-- he got his PhD here in science communication-- actually published in Science a paper-- not a paper, an article-- I'm told it's an article, not a paper-- about why scientists don't actually think very scientifically about communication. And what we argued was this.
Members of the public-- Nesbitt likes to use the term cognitive miser, right? They often are not deeply informed about any topic, or maybe only a few that they're really interested in. But complex scientific topics especially.
So how do they make up their minds in the absence of detailed knowledge? Well, they employ shortcuts to figure out what they think. They self-select their sources of information. Maybe they trust a neighbor. Maybe they trust Rush Limbaugh. But in any case, they're not getting the full picture. They're quickly making up their minds based upon something that they trust.
How do you communicate complicated science to a public that gets information this way? Well, you have to simplify the science. You have to pare it down. Not misrepresent it. Simplify it. Emphasize perhaps one aspect of it, and an aspect of it that is salient to this public that will resonate in some way with the core values that they hold so that they will actually take notice. And then, of course, different parts of the public approach issues differently, so you have to frame issues differently for them.
When we published this, it created a lot of controversy, but I think it was important to raise the issue. Because too many scientists think that communication is data dumping, in some sense. It is just the facts, and we'll explain all the facts. The facts don't often stick in people's minds, and scientists don't often get much of a chance to explain the facts through the mass media.
And the political right, however, knows how to do this very well. So global warming has been framed. It has been framed by the right. This is Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist's internal memo. I think he's probably changed his tune a little bit since then too.
But here, what is the frame for global warming? Scientific uncertainty. He tells Republicans to say the scientific debate remains open. The voters believe there's no consensus. You need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.
And then the secondary frame is, this will destroy the economy. Simple messages, repeated endlessly. And I think that this is why I get all the callers saying, you know, this is not right. You know, the science is not settled, and so forth and so on.
By contrast, the scientific community doesn't often know how to frame its message. On evolution, I think this is well captured in Randy Olson's wonderful documentary about the intelligent design battle in Kansas and elsewhere. And he goes around talking to scientists. He's a scientist himself. He doesn't doubt that they're right about evolution.
But he finds that they're angry. They're frustrated. In their communication strategy, he asks one of them at a game of poker, how would you communicate with people like this? And he says, well, I think you have to say, you're an idiot.
Right? And this is not going to work. And in fact, scientists themselves make it even worse than that on the evolution issue by tying in some vague or explicit way defense of evolution with criticism of religion. I think Richard Dawkins kind of epitomizes this trend.
And again, how do you explain evolution to a religious American? Well, you probably don't attack their religion in the context of doing it. So scientists have a lot that they themselves have to learn about communication.
Well, let me conclude then. Clearly, the Bush administration put the science-politics conundrum on the map as never before, and I'm certainly glad to have been part of stirring outrage about that. But the very bad example of this administration ought to drive us to find solutions that are much broader than just, throw the idiots out. Although I support all manner of idiot tossing.
But to narrow the science-politics-society gap, it's at least a three-legged stool, maybe more. The politicians need work. They're too cavalier with scientific information. They need to take it more seriously. They need to give better advice. Fine.
The media needs work. They're always looking for a fight. They're always looking for sensationalism. When hurricanes are around, they don't want to cover the hurricane-global warming debate and the murky issues that it raises. They don't want to cover coastal policy. They just want to send Anderson Cooper out to have billboards chase him down the street. Or say to people, oh, don't go into this dangerous area, but if you do, send us your footage.
So the press has a problem, and then the scientists themselves, right? They understand the information, but they don't know much about how to communicate. So everybody needs work.
And moreover, this work is urgent, because more of these science-policy-society-media complex, messed up issues are coming maybe surrounding nanotech, maybe surrounding geoengineering. If we can't stop global warming by capping emissions, maybe we'll put some reflective particles up there in the stratosphere or put giant mirrors to reflect sunlight away from the Earth. There will be a big fight if these solutions ever become viable and come online.
In biology, we've got more coming. Craig Venter wants to create a synthetic minimal genome organism, and he says it will have all these great environmental ramifications.
People are going to cry Frankenstein, he's playing God, creating life. Oh my God. The media's going to go crazy, I can tell you right now. And we don't even know what some of the future science policy crackups are going to be, except that they're going to happen, because science is continually changing the world and continually politically relevant.
So the upshot is that we never know everything. We never will. But we still have to take what we know, and we have to get better at this hard act of translating it and using it. Because if we fail, we can make excuses. It's too hard. It's too politicized. The media didn't cover it right. Scientists didn't communicate it right. But at the end, we only have ourselves to blame, and we have worse policies. We have a worse world.
So I'll end with a quotation that I think captures the nature of the problem nicely and succinctly in the accidentally wise words of George W. Bush. This was 2004, his first public address following the tsunami catastrophe. A reporter said, does the US have a tsunami warning system in place? And Bush did not know.
And he fumbled in response. And he said, oh, I don't-- maybe it's not as dangerous in this part of the world. And finally he said just up front, well, he just confessed. "I'm not a geologist, as you know."
And to Bush I say, well, we never wanted you to be a geologist. We only wanted you to talk to one if a tsunami happened. And in 2008, that's why we had damn well better elect a president who will do that. Thank you.
RON: OK. We're going to do a little bit of furniture rearranging. The panel's going to come up here, and we will talk in the order in which you're listed on the program. And Chris--
CHRIS MOONEY: I'm going to stay here or maybe back here.
RON: --move this down, and give you a chair back there. How's that?
CHRIS MOONEY: Cool.
RON: Can we do that? Is that too heavy to lift? No, you got it.
CHRIS MOONEY: Not for me.
CHRIS MOONEY: That would be fine.
RON: So [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS MOONEY: Like we need a Clif Bar. I can sit back there. Or maybe I should scootch back.
RON: Sit back there [INAUDIBLE]. OK.
CHRIS MOONEY: I want to be--
RON: We're going to start with Kurt Gottfried, because his name starts with a G. And Kurt's from Physics, [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS MOONEY: He's going to use a PowerPoint later, so I don't know.
RON: We'll have Kurt's response, and then we'll just move down the alphabet the way it was on the poster. Try to keep it-- I'm going to be a timekeeper [INAUDIBLE] try to keep it fairly short.
KURT GOTTFRIED: Well, you'll have no problem with timekeeping, because I didn't know that I was supposed to do anything except engage in the Q&A. So I have no prepared remarks, so I'd just like to say a few words, which I'm going to make up as I'm-- right from here.
I think-- of course, I agree with virtually-- well, with everything that Chris Mooney said. As many of you know, I think, or if you don't, I'll tell you that the Union of Concerned Scientists devoted an enormous effort to this issue. And I think we can say that we put this on the map, as did Henry Waxman, the now Chairman of the House Government Committee who is holding a zillion hearings on this issue, which he could not do at all before the last election.
So I'd like to emphasize, although it's already been stated, that this is a new situation. I mean, if you compare the way science policy was run by the first Bush administration, I mean, the one of Bush the elder, it's a really different world. We would never have conducted this kind of a campaign. I don't think Chris could have written his book after the first Bush administration.
The science advisor to Bush, who many of us knew personally, was not only a very good scientist, which he was, but he was also an honest man. And he was listened to.
Now Marburger, who's the current science advisor, is not dishonest, but he's essentially irrelevant. I mean, I don't think anything he has to say ever enters any of the decision making of this government. And furthermore, some of the things he has claimed would happen never have happened.
For example, we just saw the other day that something he's touted for several years as the answer to the climate critique of the scientific community is that they had a wonderful research program going. It's now been-- the National Academy just announced something which we all know who have been interested that this program has gotten nowhere.
And amongst other things, the most important part of that program in many ways, the launching of a satellite-- the satellite program is gutted. It is gutted, because we're now supposed to go to Mars, which is also gutting astrophysics.
So I would emphasize, because I think it makes the problem that Chris described not quite as daunting. I think that by and large with serious exceptions, government science policy was in really pretty good shape on the whole.
You did not see the kind of things that we've seen here, which are actually reminiscent of what I and many physicists saw in the practices of the Soviet Union. There really is a chilling resemblance to things that we encountered.
Minders, people who-- I mean, there's a case that wasn't mentioned, but I'm sure Chris knows about it of a climate scientist who was working in Hawaii, you know, up at 10,000 feet, and he's going to be interviewed by the BBC. And headquarters in Washington sent somebody out all the way to Hawaii to be there when he's interviewed by the BBC to make sure that he doesn't say anything that they don't want to be said.
There's the surgeon general who was mentioned had reported that he had to mention Bush at least three times per page of his speech. And this just goes on and on. People are not allowed to use the word climate change in their reports on a climate conference.
So there is thought control, an attempt at thought control, which is really chilling to those of us who've seen authoritarian and totalitarian governments' inaction. And so I think that the threat that's posed by this is really very deep. It's much deeper than the threat to science and science policy. It's really a threat to fundamental aspects of governance in a democracy.
But on the other hand, I think it is not quite as-- I think that we can look back to rather a long history of reasonably good science policy. I think most people don't realize how complex the science policy apparatus of the government is.
There are about 100,000 scientists officially who work for the government, not counting the Defense Department. I don't know how many work in the Defense Department. So there is a very complicated-- and really quite sophisticated procedures for establishing regulations, enforcing regulations, and dealing with what
I think many physicists especially don't realize, that a lot of these science issues that have to be dealt with are murky. But you can't postpone a decision. You can't just say, well, you know, wait 10 years to figure out what the answer is, because in the meantime, you may have endangered public health, for example.
So I think we've had a pretty good record of dealing with that in the past. If you compare it to other governments, I think we had done not a bad job. And what has happened has destroyed-- well, not destroyed, but deeply damaged a system that really was reasonably good. And so we have to make a big effort to re-establish it as best we can while, of course, addressing these deeper issues that Chris emphasized.
But those are going to take a long time. We're not going to get some of these things fixed overnight. And the most important thing, urgent thing, is to do the sort of things that Congress is now actively working on.
There's an enormous-- just speaking on behalf of-- not on behalf-- reporting on what UCS is involved, whereas we never saw a congressman for six years. We now can't handle all the requests. We're dealing with congressional hearings, providing testimony, and so forth. So I think that the end is not in sight.
RON: I'd just like to add one thing. Yes, I'm next on the alphabetical list. Just one quick thing, because I've already had a say. Chris's view of partisan science is enlightening. It's important. Kurt has provided us with further evidence on this.
But there is a kind of global war on the enlightenment that concerns me. And part of this global war on the enlightenment is multiple centers of expertise. There's an international science panel in London that has scientists, it's a panel, they have publications. And as far as I can tell, they are completely orthogonal to anything I would consider settled science. This is the sort of suicides in India and Frankenfoods, and all that kind of stuff.
So I think there's a larger problem, and part of it's the fragmentation of the web and the media so that we all have very narrow channels in which authoritative knowledge gets communicated, but it's all self-selected. So I think junk science is more internationally connected than it's ever been before, and it's more dangerous than it's ever been before. And the AIDS business is part of that.
And then the second thing I want to say is just a meta democratic problem. You remember, at least in Plato's account, Socrates was forced to commit suicide. He was essentially assassinated by the state, because primarily, he distrusted democracy, and he especially distrusted the notion that anybody selected by lot could do a job well. He said, we wouldn't have a craftsman-- you know, you wouldn't sort of choose your brain surgeon by a lottery. You would choose your brain surgeon by expertise.
And this is a genuine, longstanding problem in meta democratic theory of, at what point do you cede democracy for expertise? And at what point do you cede expertise for democracy?
I mean, you don't want Archie Bunker doing the curriculum for medical schools in the United States. At the same time, you probably don't want [? brownie ?] managing a FEMA evacuation program in New Orleans. That expertise missing from the democratic process can be catastrophic. I just wanted to add those two caveats about how I see Mooney's treatment of partisan science. And Steve Hilgartner is next.
STEVE HILGARTNER: OK. I have one line, so we can [INAUDIBLE]. All right. So I want to begin by thanking Chris for such a good talk, and saying that I agree with him about his criticisms of the Bush administration, and also with Kurt's view that this administration is exceptional in that it, therefore, calls for particular problems.
It's the systematic partisan attacks on scientists have become a severe problem in the operation of the American government. And Chris' work is an important public service, and I want to commend him for it. And I also appreciate the way that he framed his question as kind of moving on question. The War On Science: What Have We Learned?
But I'm an academic. And being an academic, I naturally enough want to reformulate the question, OK? And in particular, I want to start by pointing out that science has a lot of different meanings and connotations that are overlapping and complicated and woven together. And just for illustrative purposes, there are endless nuances here.
People might use the term science, for example, to refer to a body of knowledge. You know, that solid core of knowledge and maybe that penumbra of less settled knowledge that's ambiguous, contested, and uncertain, and where most of the policy issues most of the time have at least a major component in that domain. It might also refer to a mode of investigation, which we tend to gloss as the scientific method, but which anyone who knows very much about science recognizes is really a panoply of millions of different methods, some of which are being argued about their validity, and that that intertwines with the rest of the debate.
We might also think of science as a social institution on the ground. You know, a community and something that's embedded in society in complex ways that's dedicated to advancing knowledge, but that has social processes through and through.
Or we might think of it as well as an abstract, cultural symbol, sort of like truth, justice, democracy, with a very positive moral valence. And actually, that's important to recognize, because the critics of, say, global warming science, the settled part, will always frame their things that they want sound science. So the thimble gets used in this way by the other side.
So the fact that the word science has all of those meanings raises some issues. You know, precisely what is-- to take the title of Chris's book-- The Republican War in Science a war against?
And to a certain extent, the answer would be all of the above. But I want to suggest that the major front in the war can be defined more specifically. And Chris actually said something along these lines. So here's an alternative title. It's quite a bit longer than his.
I'll read through it. The war on those components of the contemporary American research system that aim to produce technical knowledge and scientifically informed advice for use in making government decisions, justifying policy, and maintaining political legitimacy: what have we learned?
CHRIS MOONEY: I agree.
STEVE HILGARTNER: Yeah. I mean, I think we're in agreement that that's actually what his title is. Now of course, I want to suggest and underline, in fact-- no. But I want to suggest that if you use this title, it would be guaranteed that the audience would be smaller than it was today.
But nonetheless, I think that this move actually helps to highlight some important points, points that Chris made to some extent or that other people may have views on. But first, empirically, this attack is focused on what I'm going to now mercifully abbreviate as the science advisory system.
You know, that large group of the 100,000-plus people working in the government, the people who are connected to them through social networks in academia, the people who are lodged in National Academy committees. You know, the surgeon general. A variety of different, very complicated institutional relationships. The attack is focused primarily on that. And-- OK. So that's one point.
And the second point is that this attack on the contemporary American advisory system is less an attack on science itself, you know, thought of in some of these other ways, than actually an attack on this particular central and very important component of governance.
So for example, science study scholar Sheila Jasanoff has suggested that science advisors are kind of akin to almost an additional branch of government. You know, kind of on the same level as the executive and the courts and the Congress, and so on. Really they aren't quite like that, but they have a function in a democratic polity that is very significant. And viewed this way, the Bush administration's attacks on this branch, so to speak, of government look much like the kind of thing that we would expect when we look at the other things that they're doing to the other branches, the way that they don't have much deference for Congress particularly standing out.
And then the third point and final point that I want to make is that once you think of it and highlight these aspects of it, it's clear that the response to this war can't be just a call for depoliticizing science. Just arguing that science needs to be depoliticized is not enough. That may be a useful slogan in the trenches, but analytically, it's not enough to do the job of really teasing out what is needed.
So another way to put it is that the lesson here is not that we must somehow create an apolitical, fully autonomous advisory system, walled off from social interests, protected from all political pressures and accountable to no one outside the system. You know, that's not workable.
At the same time, the system can't be vulnerable to the kinds of partisan attacks that it's been subjected to under this administration, and that Chris and the UCS and others have documented so well. So there are obviously points in this complicated system where autonomy and insulated zones for work are necessary.
And yet, at the same time, scientific research in the advisory system are far too deeply enmeshed in society for full autonomy to be achievable. And if we kind of hold up that as what we're aiming to do, rather than thinking about it more analytically and pragmatically, we're going to have trouble, especially in this situation where we're dealing with public issues that are hybrids of the technical and the political, which covers almost the entire policy spectrum.
So a second point connected to this is that moreover, even if full autonomy could be achieved in advisory systems-- and I don't think they can-- that wouldn't be something we actually want. We actually want the advisory system to serve societal ends, to reflect social interests. We want the advisors to be aimed at improving health, protecting the environment, creating technologies that assist in human flourishing. And we want the ends to be defined in part by the citizenry. We don't want these things to kind of fall out of the scientific sky, so to speak.
Now in recent decades, American society has taken a number of steps to make science advice and the research system more responsive to the citizenry. And I think overall, those moves, while sometimes they've been misguided, have been moves in the right direction in many cases.
So what I would leave you with is that fundamentally, the problem isn't here, how can we restore the autonomy of science. But rather, how can we create appropriate constitutional relationships among the advisory system and the other branches of government and the citizenry that can lead to sensible and effective policymaking and social negotiation?
If you think about these things as constitutional relationships where you're arguing about the rights, duties, responsibilities, and powers of different entities with respect to one another, you're thinking about it, I think, in a direction that moves a lot further than just thinking about restoring autonomy, and that's useful for moving ahead.
So clearly, this isn't a problem when thought about in these constitutional terms that is subject to once and for all or permanent solution. On the contrary, just as we have ongoing constitutional arguments among the other branches of governments that we explicitly recognize as branches of government, we would expect to see ongoing arguments in this area as well. And so debates about the relationships between the advisory system and the courts and the advisory system and the Congress and the executive and so forth are going to be ongoing, and they're going to be central actually, I think, to the politics of the 21st century in the United States and in other highly technological democratic societies.
RON: Thanks. Ted Lowi, Government.
TED LOWI: I'm walking up here, because I like to see the whites of your eyes.
And also because I'd like to show you a great coincidence. I'm not sure if I scooped them or was scooped by them, but here's the cover of the book [INAUDIBLE].
The difference is they're a lot more anal than I am, all right? Only show the sides instead of the backside. So I just want you to know. And that adds a certain sense of consonance.
I knew coming here that I would be in great agreement and sympathy with Chris. And so I had to think of something that would be in the spirit of something that I hadn't heard before, but I'd pick up on and hope that this will become important. That is contentious science. Because what we're talking about here is science as a victim. It's being hammered all the time. I feel sorry for scientists today. I'm going to go home and cry.
Scientists are suffering like hell from all these things. Well, I'm here as a different kind of a thinker on these matters, and I like to look at science as an institution. It's not a collection of labs and these white coats that make them just like the pinky things that the priests wear. They wear these white coats and so on, and that makes them something super.
And my trouble with looking at science as an institution is that they're impervious to outside communications. You can talk all you want to about framing and what scientists failed to put across to us. They are a power center themselves, and we should speak truth to power. But is power listening? Well, as Jonathan Swift once said, if you have no teeth, you make up for it with your [INAUDIBLE].
And so I'm going to scream since they don't listen. And I'm going to tell you a little story of how poorly they listen and how little they take into account their social obligations through their awareness of their place in our society. They don't do that.
Occasionally, you'll find a guy like Kurt. Occasionally, you'll find guys like that. But as an institution, it's a bloody failure. And you have to talk to them seriously about this. And the less scientist you are, the more you're likely to be believed. So I think they'll believe me a lot.
But anyway, I want to tell you a little story. And what I need to do is to ask you to cede to me the time you didn't use in your various respective times, because it's going to take an extra minute or two.
RON: Those are negative numbers, Ted.
TED LOWI: That laugh doesn't count against my time, OK?
Once upon a time, I published a book one year before this guy was born, and it was about the story of the Fermilab, the National Accelerator Laboratory. I want to tell you that story. And I've been [INAUDIBLE] against science as an institution the rest of my life, even though my son-in-law is a physicist from out of this place here, and he doesn't think that way, but he knows the institution itself is not so good.
What happens here is that when they were looking around for a site for the National Accelerator Lab, there were about 200 competitors offering sites, and they finally picked a little place called Weston, Illinois, outside about 30 miles northwest of Chicago. All you know that very much better than I do. I haven't been out there since we wrote the book about it, me and my students, [INAUDIBLE] myself.
And what had happened was they won the site competition not only because they were near water and electricity and near a center of excellence, and all that stuff. They won it because of that. But one big reason they won it, the specifications for their needs, aside from the water and the electric power, was 3,000 acres of land with the availability of water, and so on and so on.
The Chicago run won the site selection by offering them 6,800 acres of land. They said, oh, boy. We'll just take it. That's great. What they didn't know was the little village of Weston where they were going to have it moved over across the railroad tracks-- and they lied to the Weston people-- it was a working class village.
And they were going to move the Weston village over across the railroad track, and it would become the first atomic community serving an atomic installation. They even put up a big sign saying, we're the first atomic city, and all that stuff.
And so the scientists move in, they take over this little village, and they don't move it, because they want to move out all these people through eminent domain so that the workers and the planners and the architects are going to occupy those little bungalows, working class bungalows, as work centers for the creation of this enormous site where they're going to put way away from this little village the circle, the thing. I was going to call the book The Fellowship of the Ring, but it was already taken up.
But in any event, this is what happened. So they build this thing. They run away all these working class people. And what they've been given in the 6,800 acres are 70 farms, one of which had been taken over to subdivide and build the little village on.
What the scientists didn't know was that those were farms occupied by people. Some were gentlemen farmers. Some were real farmers. But the tax system was so great, they were really in the fold, as well as the people who sold the village for the building of this little village called Weston.
And by the way, it disappeared. They even went to the trouble to go to the Illinois legislature and wipe it out as a corporation. It doesn't exist anymore. It sounds like Potemkin plus Moscow. It was completely erased.
So they get this village and they put their workers in there, and they build this thing. And this is '67, '68, '69. What they didn't know-- oh, let me add to this. What they didn't know was all these farms had been wiped out. So when they got all wiped out and they built a ring outside to fence them in, and they built the ring and got it ready, and then they had all this extra land they didn't know what to do with, so they built a model farm, and they hired a guy out of television and called him Buffalo Bob so that people can come visit and see what a farm looks like after having abolished 71 farms to build up the 6,800 acres.
And why they picked 6,800 acres is because-- and these guys didn't know any of this until we told them in our book, and they got really pissed off, including Bob Wilson. Remember, he's one of the culprits in this story, one of our own famous poet-type physicists. He didn't like it worth a damn.
So what happens is they didn't know any of this. Not only did they take the village out of lying-- they knew about the lie part-- but what they didn't know was that the Cook County, Dupage County, and the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois had been trying for 10 years before it was built to stop it from being built, because it was a working class village in a high-rent, high-end-- they still [INAUDIBLE] the foxes out there. And they were trying to get this excrescence off this land out there.
So they got the state to use eminent domain to pick up the 6,800 acres to destroy the possibility that no other farm would ever give in and sell to another developer to build another one of these working class houses. They didn't know any of that when this happened.
This is the end of a use of power that is absolutely enormous, but it also implicates science as an institution. I am sick of hearing about this unit, that unit, that scientist, that advisor, and so on. I am waiting to see science consider itself not a branch of government, because that's a corporatist institution, which they already are. That's why you don't want to make it another government official. You don't want it like the fascist systems that were. They had scientists then too.
What you need to do is to reconstruct, re-framework science as an institution, and to reconsider what its obligations are to the public interest. They do not do that, because they consider each scientist, each lab, each university, and each organization like the NAS think of science as synonymous with the public interest. And there is no human institution that is synonymously the public interest.
I'd like you to consider that and be more uncomfortable about science from its own philosophy and its own behavior, rather than simply stand up and defend their honor as individual scientists. I've had enough of that. Thank you.
RON: Yet another political scientist, John Shields, University of Colorado.
JOHN SHIELDS: Thank you. I think I'd like to situate Chris's book in a much larger intellectual and political history by way of highlighting how organized conservatism I think has undermined liberal enthusiasm for more ideological politics. In the 1960s and even before, liberal reformers longed for much more contentious and ideological politics. The new left, reformers in the Democratic Party, and political scientists all wanted politics by and large to be more morally contentious.
And what is more, I think they really succeeded to some large degree in remaking political institutions. The presidential nominating process was restructured in such a way that gave cultural activists new power. There was a huge explosion in interest groups, especially on the left. And these groups had more power in the federal bureaucracy. And these changes, I think, in parties, in government were so dramatic that some political scientists began talking about the new American political system.
Now one might suppose that it would have been conservatives who would have waged war on this new system, but I think it's liberals who are really mounting a counterattack against their own revolution. They decry the kind of ideological and moral politics that their predecessors once longed for. And above all, I think what they all share in common is a kind of commitment or impulse to kind of push moral passions and issues to the margins of American politics.
And I think Chris's book is one example of this trend, insofar as he contends that scientific expertise and consensus should direct our political choices rather than our moral or ideological commitments. Other books make similar kinds of moves, I think, but they've got different ways of doing it.
So for example, I think Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas?, hopes to do something similar in a way, except he wants to put economic self-interest at the center of American politics in an effort to kind of moralize moral issues. Many others hope to enlist centrist voters against divisive moralists. I think this has been a very-- even more popular camp. To give just one example, Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina even dedicated his book on the culture wars to tens of millions of mainstream Americans.
And so in a kind of strange political turn, I think, liberals have embraced-- or at least many liberals have embraced what Nixon once called the silent majority as the kind of source of their salvation from 1960s liberalism. So what do we make of these developments, and why have so many liberals become anxious and repudiated the kind of ideological politics they once successfully kind of created?
I think there's lots of reasons, actually. But I think at least a partial reason is that as it turns out-- well, the values voters turned out to have the wrong values. This was, after all, not the way things were supposed to turn out for the left. The new left imagined politics pivoting somewhere between socialism and liberalism. Political scientists were not so sanguine, but they nonetheless assumed that a more ideological party system would benefit liberal Democrats.
And these were not crazy expectations, in a way. I mean, of course, ideological activists in the 1960s were overwhelmingly on the left. And conservatism was thought to exist more as a kind of pathological disorder of the passive mainstream masses. Kind of the affliction of Nixon's silent majority.
But now the silent majority-- the silent ordinary Americans, I would argue, seem to be a bulwark against an ideological politics that tilts to the right. Scientific expertise, I think for Mooney and economic self-interest for Frank do something somewhat similar. They serve as a kind of bulwark against the conservative ascendancy.
But the result is, I think, that all of these thinkers-- there's a tendency to neglect some of our deepest differences. And I'll talk just for a minute about bioethics, which is the one area that I know something about.
I think rather than be concerned with which side, for example, overstates or understates the kind of prospects for stem cell research, I think we should be far more interested and concerned about deliberative conversations about the deeper fundamental issue that really divides us, which in this case is the moral status of the embryo. After all, it's this controversy which leads partisans on all sides to distort the scientific evidence.
And at this philosophical level, this deeper level, I think the thrust of the evidence cuts in a direction somewhat contrary to the thrust of Chris's thesis. That is, I think liberals in this particular case have had lots of incentives to embrace a kind of intellectualism. In fact, I think they tend to make one of two moves in the context of these debates.
I think they either say that somehow our feelings or sentiments should determine the moral status of the embryo-- this was particularly common in the embryonic stem cell debate-- or they argue that somehow these ontological questions are shrouded in the darkness of religious metaphysics. That is, philosophy and science and reason can shed no light whatsoever on the moral status of the embryo.
Which means, of course, that it should be kind of kept out of the public square and out of public conversation. And of course, any effort to restrict abortion or stem cell research should be properly regarded in this case as a kind of unjustified assertion of sectarian metaphysics. And so I think this is a kind of deeply anti-intellectual move, and I think it actually doesn't bode very well for the future of our kind of political debate about bioethics.
Now of course, on the other hand, I think religious folks, and especially religious conservatives, spent a lot of time, ironically, trying to persuade others that this is actually not a religious issue, and that we actually can get some intellectual leverage on what the embryo is. Of course, they have their own partisan reasons for doing so. It's not as if they're somehow more interested in rational or more committed to a kind of serious rational debate in and of itself.
So this doesn't mean, of course, that I would argue that there's a democratic war on science or reason. And I'm actually quite persuaded by many of Chris's arguments, especially in other kinds of policy domains.
But maybe the book in the end needs to be understood as a somewhat partisan attack on partisan science. And if this is right, I think it-- and perhaps it underscores I think the centrality of moral passions and issues in public life, even for those of us who I think call for the marginalization.
RON: Thank you. And finally, a scientist. We begin and end with a scientist, Janice Thies.
JANICE THIES: I wanted to start by thanking Chris for coming and giving a very passionate presentation on his very interesting book. I also want to thank the other members of the panel for their comments, most of which were more broad types of statements.
And what I'd like to comment on is a smaller, more personal involvement with the process that I've had recently. Chris says the role of the scientist in translating knowledge, it's very important for us to engage in these things. And with all good intentions, I have pulled myself out of my laboratory and begun to engage in exactly these things. But I can't say it is not without having my fingers burned.
I'm going to bring us to a topic that Chris didn't cover in his talk, and this is what I refer to as the perversion that is the Data Quality Act. And Chris talks quite a bit about the Act, and how it's being misused by industry to thwart findings by scientists that don't suit their interests.
And the example he gives is atrazine, looking at very robust datasets indicating that there's endocrine disruption. These data have been peer-reviewed. They're published in [? PNES. ?] Highly replicated, robust dataset that was attacked by industry. And the net result was a limitation on any regulation regarding atrazine.
In my own experience then, coming to a scientific advisory panel, I expected to be confronted with very robust data. Scientific integrity was all over the news. And I would expect that the EPA would accept nothing but very robust data.
I came to find that such was not the case. When we were reviewing data in a recent scientific advisory panel, more than half of the panelists had complaints about the quality of the data. Unreplicated, unanalyzed, data that Jane Rissler commented last week, we would not accept for a senior thesis.
And so we wrote a fairly lengthy reply in the minutes regarding data quality. And when I went to look to see how this was translated by the EPA, I was quite surprised. We commented that the data were not of publication quality. The panel reply for the panel director was that this is not what was asked of industry. They did not require them to have publication-quality data. Well, what is the level of quality being asked of registrants then is a good question.
So we went through quite a long critique of the data. And the response by the EPA was that our critique on the quality of the data was superfluous to the task of the panel, and this I found pretty outrageous.
On one dataset, I wrote two pages of critique on the problems of the actual experimental design, the way the data were summarized and presented, and the way that they were analyzed. And in the commentary, when the EPA wrote its report, they had to admit that there were inadequacies in that particular dataset, but that the registrant had submitted these voluntarily. And therefore, my comments were superfluous. But when I looked in the table that described this particular experiment, it didn't say rejected but superfluous. It said acceptable.
So this leads me to ask, why is it that we can have highly replicated published datasets being challenged to the degree that they are, yet our own federal agencies are accepting data from industry that would not pass muster even for a senior thesis at Cornell?
If you're faced with superfluous commentary when it comes to evaluating data, then I have to ask, what is the role of scientists on these panels? We are asked to look at the data. We are asked to evaluate those data based on our training and experience. When we say that they're faulty and that statement is rejected, where does that place us in the whole sphere of scientific advice?
So it seems to me that we ask, as Steve Hilgartner did in his book on science on the stage, are we actors in this play as scientists? Or are we simply stage props and are there to give the aura of authenticity to the proceedings, even though the advice may not be taken at all by the agency to which we're giving it?
And I did run into some of these panelists at a later time, and I asked, has anything been done to address the deficiencies in these sorts of datasets? And I was told, well, if you read the first few pages of the report, you'll see that that's your opinion, and we as the EPA don't have to accept your opinion.
And I do have a slide there that's got the EPA's disclaimer on scientific advisory panel advice that says just that. Thank you very much, but these are not the views of the EPA. So like to come to the call, like to help out, but also like to see it be a productive exercise for the regulatory framework. Thanks.
RON: Thank you. Everybody's been very patient. We have a little reception after this. And I think the reward for sitting there so long is, please ask questions. You may direct them to anybody or everybody, but stand up and tell us who you are, and we'll just take some questions from the audience. Yes, please? I only [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: There seems to be a lot of this argument that we're having or talking about this is what we're essentially facing an argument against science that's directed at the gut, at people's gut instincts about how they feel about what should be true versus what they see as science telling them what is true. And a lot of the response that you get from scientists or defenders of the science is an appeal to the mind as opposed to the gut.
And so it seems that the burden of proof [INAUDIBLE] people trying to convince somebody who says, well, I'm not sure if global warming is real, you know, I'm not a scientist. And this guy said it's not, because he spoke to me, versus someone else giving me all this data [INAUDIBLE].
And how would you-- I guess this is to the whole panel, in situations where you're trying to convince somebody that-- you're defending science versus a gut appeal against science, is there a way to use a gut instinct as a counterpoint to an argument? Or is there any way-- are you stuck using the high-minded argument, which seems to be essentially less effective, because it doesn't hit at the same level for the vast majority of the population?
CHRIS MOONEY: [INAUDIBLE].
RON: Sure. Yeah. Why not? Yeah, [? Chris. ?] Go ahead. It doesn't matter.
CHRIS MOONEY: Well, that was part of the point of the framing part of the talk, is if you dump data on people who aren't familiar with it and intimately involved in it, that's not going to be usually very persuasive. And that scientists themselves-- let's say the example's global warming. It might be-- or some other messenger related to the scientific community or allied with it.
It might be wiser to talk about global warming as a moral issue, as an economic opportunity, as a scandal. It's all of those things, as well as a scientific issue. And it may resonate much more for different segments of the audience if framed in that way.
For example, the scandal frame is The Republican War on Science. It gets people very exercised. The global warming stories that get on the front page of The New York Times are not science stories. They're stories about people being suppressed. And that's an outrage. It's malfeasance. It gets us excited.
And I'll just-- you know, the idea that there's a moral obligation, a religiously grounded moral obligation to be caretakers of the environment has also been a message that's resonated for many people you might not think it would resonate with. So I'm saying that often, you are not best advised to discuss these issues purely technically.
AUDIENCE: Is it even possible then to retain the advantage then [INAUDIBLE] science, that you have to appeal that gut [INAUDIBLE] to even counter those kind of arguments? Like, when you [INAUDIBLE] science [INAUDIBLE] partisan [INAUDIBLE] you lose your kind of cohesive, fact-based argument by moving to the realm [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS MOONEY: Right. And that's a risk. But if you've got-- you've already won the science. I mean, I'm using the global warming example in particular. The science has been clear with some uncertainty, but smaller for some time. And the public understanding is really not anywhere where the science is. And that's because the facts alone were not enough to move the public to create policy, to create acceptance.
So yes, while there's some danger for scientists to talk in not purely scientific ways, what they have to consider is not only that talking in purely scientific ways has I think contributed to a gap between scientists and the public in terms of what they understand, but actually, the talking in purely scientific ways is a trap exploited by their political opponents who would love nothing more than for them to just argue technically about this subject.
Because then they will find someone else to argue technically about this subject the other way, and it'll sound really confusing. And people who don't know a lot about it will shrug and say, experts haven't made up their minds. Probably nothing we can do about it.
RON: Val [INAUDIBLE] is next.
AUDIENCE: I think this is for Steve Hilgartner, but I'm not sure. Maybe others on the panel. I'm just wondering what alternatives are out there in terms of what other countries do in terms of organizing science [INAUDIBLE] or what the EU, for example, does. You know, something that's on the scale of what would be the United States [INAUDIBLE] EU would be the example. But if you talk a little bit or if anyone can speculate a little bit about how we walk that boundary, how other countries might deal with that boundary in terms of issues about autonomy as well as organizing advice, et cetera.
STEVE HILGARTNER: OK. Yeah. I mean, it's interesting, because if you were to look at the EU and the US right now, you would see that in the EU, it's sort of the trend in science policymaking around science advice and so forth is really focused very much on what you could think of as, and is sometimes captured under the slogan, increasing public engagement.
So in the EU, there are lots of efforts to try to sort of bring citizens into the science advisory process more in some way, you know? Consult them, get their opinions. There are people who are writing reports, say, in Britain saying, you know, you have to move the citizen engagement upstream so that it happens earlier.
You know, there's a sense among the people who are writing this literature that to a significant degree, the consultation and involvement of the public in what we want out of science and so forth is happening too late in the process. That you know, sort of irreversible commitments get made and kind of locked in, and so the political solution is to involve more people earlier in more complicated ways. And they're arguing about how effective that is, whether it's a kind of co-option, whether it really functions, and so forth. But that's what's going on there.
Now if you compared that to the United States, you know, here we are. We in '95, as Chris mentioned, took what was a worldwide treasure, the Office of Technology Assessment, which gave the legislative branch some possibility of actually conducting some sort of technical analysis to put against the executive-- and not that the imbalance was at all handled by that, but it moved in that direction, and we dismantled it. OK?
And yeah, there's a discussion about moving it back in. We'll see where that goes. But here, the arguments have tended to be focused instead on trying to defend the advisory system against the attacks that are coming down on tightening up the control over the system, increasing deference to experts.
And it's the opposite of what's going on to a certain extent in the EU. Although you know, this is a generalization that I'll have to just say, you know, it's very complicated and there's a lot of countries, and so on.
KURT GOTTFRIED: I'd like to, if I may, there is a fundamental difference-- well, fundamental. Deep difference between the way a country like Britain or France, for example, conducts government.
The way the American government is organized is really quite different. In America as we know here, the number of political appointees goes quite far down in say, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's not just the very top, the administrator or the cabinet secretary who are political appointees and a couple of deputies. It goes down a long way. And one of the things the Bush administration has done is to introduce political appointees to a much deeper level than existed before. It's been always deep.
Whereas in Europe especially, I mean, the systems I know, there are very few political appointees. The civil service is very powerful. Very powerful. I mean, I can't imagine if there were people who didn't believe in evolution getting through the front door of the French Ministry of Education.
The people in the French Ministry of Education are all from the fanciest schools. They would think these people are idiots, and they don't have to listen to them. So it's very, very different. So what you're talking about, Steve, is that there the difference between the public is really shut out of a lot of these things by the power of the civil service.
With us, we're sort of at the other side. We change the government to a rather deep extent every four years, or at least eight, and change a lot of people who are very powerful, that really can manage the bureaucracy to an extent that is really not possible in these other democracies. We are much more-- I would say that we're a much more democratic country than most of these countries in a deep sense, whether you like it or not.
RON: I just want to add one thing to that. There's a kind of revolt in poorer countries against exactly this, that science comes across the way Ted Lowi described it, as a kind of authoritarian hand maiden of the state that decides what's right, and people at the bottom are kind of ground out.
So you have these movements, very powerful movements all over the poorer countries of sort of local knowledge movements, indigenous knowledge, and attempts to displace the autocratic rule of science from centralized ministries of the sort of French sort that you're describing. So it has had a counteractive effect in other parts of the world. Yes, on the aisle here.
AUDIENCE: OK. This is to Chris Mooney. I was wondering if could say a little bit more about what you think about the Dawkins book. [INAUDIBLE]. Because suppose that you were to take the thing and do away with [? polemics ?] and just say, no. Let's sit and think coolly about how we would give a nice, tight evolutionary [INAUDIBLE] by variation and selection explanation of human propensity of religion [INAUDIBLE]. Do you think that would be a good thing to talk about? Would that be a wise thing to talk about?
CHRIS MOONEY: I agree with Dawkins about religion, largely. I'm an atheist. I don't practice it. I actually come out of secular humanism-- worked for the movement, then I was taught secular humanist values very intensively growing up. And religion has never been a part of my life in any way, which is something not that many people can say, actually.
But I just think-- and you know, Dawkins is actually, you know, not from the US, and his approach is different, and that's part of what's going on here. I just think that we have to understand the people we're trying to get to accept evolution who we've been fighting in this country for 100 years. And they haven't moved an inch. And one of the reasons they haven't moved and inch is because we've never really bothered-- some defenders of science have never really bothered to come to grasps with what they think about this stuff.
And one of the main things they think is that evolution is at the root of a tree of sin that creates all kinds of bad behaviors. It not only includes loss of faith, but various types of promiscuity, because it takes God out of morality. And it means all of those things to them. And the tree of sin is actually a literal depiction that you can find in some Christian literature.
So in this context, you cannot open their minds about evolutionary science if you go through the Richard Dawkins door. It's a nonstarter. And what has to be done is a middle way approach in which the leading messengers for teaching evolution are themselves religious believers who explain that you've been misinformed. There isn't this necessary conflict there. And I've got religion in my life, and I'm a leading geneticist.
That's just the political reality of the situation. Or we can keep banging our heads against the creationist movement, you know? And keep having a big battle that maybe goes to the Supreme Court every 10 or 20 years.
AUDIENCE: So [INAUDIBLE]?
CHRIS MOONEY: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: OK. Absolutely. And not necessary.
RON: Anyone else on this-- 2/3 of the way back on this side. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: This is more an observation [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a retired faculty member from ICM, social psychologist. And I see that as academics, we're accustomed to debating and discussing different issues and evaluating the data and recognizing that not all things are necessarily right or wrong.
And what I see here is a kind of ultra relativism that people-- you know, you argue in favor of listening to different perspectives, and what some people [INAUDIBLE] students, undergraduates, and others take from that is that all ideas are equal valuable, regardless of the basis on which they were formed. So if my friend tells me this and I believe it, then that's equal to my professor's view that may be based on reading and data, et cetera.
And how we get beyond this, it is everybody thinks my view, you know, creationism is on equal footing with evolution, and so I see a kind of overriding principle that is not seeing that different ideas may have different value because of what underlies them. And do we see any way around-- your arguments about cognitive misers is very good. I'm not sure quite how we break past the idea that different underpinnings for ideas make for a decision basis.
So students, when they would go out to write papers initially think anything on the web is equally valuable to cite rather than being able to sort out, what is something-- whether or not-- it doesn't have to be in a journal. But a scholar can sort out what seems to be valuable information on which to inform their own positions.
CHRIS MOONEY: Is that me? I don't know.
RON: Do you want to [INAUDIBLE]?
JANICE THIES: I think that in some ways, Chris did touch on this already, insofar as the way media is treating these ideas and the propensity to have a balanced view, giving equal weight to both sides, making them appear to be equally as reasonable. So that's part of the way that it's translated into the public knowledge.
And I would also argue that we have a serious problem with education in this country. We may not be leaving children behind, but they certainly aren't moving forward either. And the erosion of skills in mathematics and science make it difficult to discuss these ideas with laypeople, because the fundamental basis for their understanding isn't even forged in high school, and often, sometimes not even at university level.
CHRIS MOONEY: Yeah, I'll just add, I don't want to leave us in a position of relativism, and almost everything I said is contrary to that. You know, I think scientific process done right over long periods of time does give us pretty much the best approach we can have to actually knowing something. And I think the government should use that. But I'm also saying-- yeah, no, no. And so that's the whole point of The Republican War on Science.
But when I got into this science communication arena, which I think is also very important, I think that you're just-- I'll say use the phrase again-- you're banging your head against a wall if you try to talk to someone without knowing where they're coming from. And is that relativism? I don't know. I think it's just good communication.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] I said because we seem to have an overriding ultra relativism when each side doesn't see-- you know, there are sides that don't seem to see that what lies under their argument is not the same as what underlies [INAUDIBLE] you have people talking at each other.
CHRIS MOONEY: And you have think tanks that give different kinds of expertise that [INAUDIBLE], and you have media that give different slants that everyone can listen to. And a lot of people are not actually ever hearing both sides. And that's a huge factor in what we're seeing.
RON: The guy in the purple shirt back here.
AUDIENCE: This is a question more for the political scientists. It seems to me that in a system where the president and executive branch is allowed to [INAUDIBLE] a great number in the government just because of the competitive [INAUDIBLE] in between the two parties, the cronyism that seems to have developed, especially with President Bush, it seems to me like that is a lot of the problem. And is there any kind of solution outside of legislation that's going to be able to prevent each president [INAUDIBLE] agree to everything that the party wants?
JANICE THIES: You mean such as having the skills to do the job?
AUDIENCE: Is there anything that we could [INAUDIBLE] did you see any kind of solution to the chronic cronyism that's happening?
TED LOWI: Well, probably the only solution is a political one to a political problem like that. And we've always depended upon-- our theory here in our pluralist society is that when something really stupid, something that's political and also just a terribly wrong thing to have done, there's an opposition that can provide a serious exposure, and at least keep the person contained from doing too much danger, too much damage, or in fact to discredit so that they may finally be pushed away.
The trouble in recent years is-- and this is part of what this young fellow here is joining into that is very recent just the same-- is that the opposition in the last 15 years-- and more than that. I'd say the opposition since Reagan has been dominated by a conservative view that's being challenged here in terms of the science issues.
The Democratic Party is so cowardly when you raise values and morals that they are silenced. We've allowed we-- I'm not a Democrat. I burned my card some years ago. But we have allowed-- the Democratic Party has allowed the conservatives within the Republican Party to frame who can set the discourse is going to win the argument.
And right up through the Swift Boat thing that got Kerry, right up through the business of creative intelligence and all that stuff, have never really been challenged by political people. And scientists are not the only ones who aren't doing this. We've allowed the religious right-- let's say the morality right to set the terms of discourse.
And there's a lack of courage and not just wisdom, but a lack of courage in the National Democratic Party. They're afraid to get into these issues because they have to deal with it in moral terms, which they're not accustomed to. They've always been more utilitarian.
But this is the only way we can get out of these things is you can't stop presidents from appointing political associates, but many of them have honor enough either to resign if they are asked to do too many things, or they pick somebody who's good despite being a loyalist to the Republicans and the Democrats. And the trouble is for the past 20 years, the Democratic Party has been the poorest opposition party in our history.
JOHN SHIELDS: I would add in a much more general way that, I mean, I certainly think there's a kind of deep tension between participation on the one hand-- between a kind of participatory contentious politics on the one hand and perhaps a more deliberative one on the other.
And I think it's one we tend to lose sight of, in spite of the fact that in some ways, it was at the center of the founders' political thought. That is, for James Madison, he very clearly saw this tension, that if we wanted any-- if there was going to be real hope of deliberation and the Congress and the executive that citizens had to be kept weak and distant from the representatives. So in a sense, liberty and the public interests required that we become weak.
And I think that political scientists in the '60s and '70s had the opposite concern. That is, they worried that parties were atrophied, and that citizens were splitting their tickets too much, and that they were falling away from politics, and that there weren't really genuine moral distinctions between the parties, such that they could pick a party that represented their values.
And now we've seemed to have swung, you know, with the rise of partisanship and more ideological cohesion in the parties we've kind of swung in the opposite direction. Now we're much more anxious about the deliberative quality in our public institutions. But I would suggest that that tension. And both of those goods can't be endlessly maximized. There's some limits to that.
RON: I think Kurt also raised a very interesting point. This is a populist sort of democracy, and we allow these kind of political appointees to go all the way down. And the Bush administration has been extreme in terms of its disdain of expertise, but it's a genuine dilemma.
Here in the city of Ithaca, when we moved here, we were stunned that we had to have a prescription for fluoride for our kid, because the water's not fluoridated. We said, how can this highly educated community-- this is pro-poor, the American Dental Association that has a deep interest in cavities, they're in favor of fluoridation of the water supply. It seems to me that everybody is on board for subtle science about fluoridation of the water supply, and it can never be passed in Ithaca.
And indeed, in the current debate over whether we have Bolton Point or rebuild Six Mile Creek, in that current debate, a significant political voice is, we have to make sure that we can keep fluoride out of our water, whichever way the debate goes. And this is our local democracy, which it's pretty vigorous, right?
But at the same time, this dilemma between expertise, this is back to Socrates. Socrates doesn't want the person making the decision about fluoridation to be decided by a lottery, every citizen being equal in terms of expertise. Socrates wants the guy that runs the air traffic control center to be really good at running an air traffic control center, and not somebody picked by lottery. So this expertise versus a populist notion of democracy is the tension you can't escape. Yes, back here?
AUDIENCE: I just wanted to say that it seems to be that one of the most important political involvements in the last 30 years or so has been the dramatic success of the Southern strategy that has brought all of the former Democratic evangelicals that had been in the South into the same party as the Midwestern evangelicals that had been in the Midwest.
And the result is that it seems to me that Bush is something that had to happen. That sooner or later, this party that has become now the political instrument of a combined massive and politicized religious right was bound to create a George Bush, Karl Rove machine that we've seen, disdaining expertise, and especially making war on science.
And I don't know how we're going to correct that, because I couldn't have imagined this Republican party, as I lived through the Eisenhower years or even the Nixon years. What has happened to it is dramatic. And a number of moderate Republicans have said, my party's been hijacked. And it certainly has.
CHRIS MOONEY: Well, that's why I didn't use that title.
RON: Mike [INAUDIBLE]?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Something that bothers me about the sort of oppositional framing of war on science, because at least in some of these contexts-- like, take, for instance, the intelligent design debate.
The long-term trend has been not an opposition between religion versus science, but a progressive ambiguation of what used to be a very clear-cut religious voice. And the taking on, at least the outer craftings, and I'd say even some of the inner craftings of expertise, science credentials, so that the debate becomes increasingly [INAUDIBLE] in technical terms rather than the way it was in Scopes, where biblical authorities would be directly invoked in opposition to this apostasy of teaching evolution.
So in some sense, if you just look at that one stream, I think you can get different stories with different kinds of debates here. But at least with that one in some ways, science has won. And yet, it's gotten increasingly confusing, because what used to be the religious side and still is largely has adapted-- and I guess if you're against it, you'd say it's disguised itself.
And yet, there are people who were testifying in the [INAUDIBLE] trial who were professing not to be religious themselves, and who were advocating views that they're defending on the basis of complexity theory and things of that sort. So that perhaps they're naively being enlisted by creationists.
But the battlefield has shifted to the point where it's more on a battlefield that looks a lot like science and becomes ever more difficult to distinguish the sides between components who are scientists that have a square footing in science. And then those are coming from somewhere else. That's just one of the occasions. But I think that we're finding--
CHRIS MOONEY: It's all of them. It's all of them.
AUDIENCE: --yeah, with the think tanks and so forth that it's not a public that's skeptical or cynical about science. But it believes in science, and yet it's confused by these technical issues. And of course, global climate change is horrendously complicated.
There's so many fields involved that as long-- as it's not that hard to keep some sort of technical opposition going on it. There are people who seemingly sincerely voice skepticism about it. It seems that if you take a longer view, the battlefield is shifting to the point where it is a battle within science if you credit at least minimally the rhetoric that's being used to oppose what the science [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS MOONEY: I agree with you. It's even more extensive than you say. And one of the craziest things about this is that the religious right has got all of its own scientists, and it argues all of its moral issues in scientific terms.
AUDIENCE: They've also gone so far away from what many fundamentalist Christians believe that if they were to win the battle of the courts, what they would win would be almost unrecognizable from the [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS MOONEY: Well, that's the specific-- that's due to the specific legal nature of the evolution battle in which the Constitution has required-- has forced them to sanitize their religion from their arguments. And so of course, you find out what they really think, and that's why they're really there. But they have to put up this facade. And so they've been paring it down, paring it down, and hiding God until the God became the intelligent designer that has no identity whatsoever that they can describe it any way.
CHRIS MOONEY: Yeah. So partly for legal reasons, they do that. But I have a different talk in which I go through the religious right just on sex. And I sort of point out how they've got their own scientist who explains why abortion causes breast cancer, their own scientist who explains why abortion causes mental illness, their own scientist who explains why adult stem cells are better than embryonic ones for scientific research.
You know, they've got a scientific expert for every one of these things, and it's because no one can be anti-science. But I still call it a war on science, because this is bad science. These are all non-mainstream positions. If you get a reputable scientific assessment done of these subjects, they lose. They always lose.
But they still try to argue through science, so I still say they're abusing the process. I mean, you know, it's on the turf of science, so you're right. But it is not good science, and it's not the kind of science we want to use to inform decision making.
KURT GOTTFRIED: Can I just--
CHRIS MOONEY: Yeah.
KURT GOTTFRIED: But of course, it depends on the issue. I think in the climate issue, although there are these so-called experts who've been hired, basically, in part by ExxonMobil to discredit, you know, what we would call legitimate science, they've lost that battle. And I think it's widely recognized that the battle on climate change has been lost by them.
And one interesting thing that maybe not everybody is aware of is that there's been recently a group of evangelicals who have met with some very prominent climate scientists. Very prominent. Amongst the most prominent in the country, and who are cooperating to work together, because the evangelicals who are leading people in the evangelical movement want to save the planet that God has given them.
So I think that this is one case where in a sense, it's not that the war is now conducted on the science in the science arena itself. But it's really been to-- I think it will be dissipated by what is at the moment still in formation, but it's a very impressive group of people who are meeting. And we will see. In fact, it's been in the press, actually, a little bit about it. But I think that this is not just something that's going to have one meeting, and that's the end of it. I'm sure you're aware of that.
RON: Anybody else on this question? No? OK. Ken Roberts, who is the co-team leader of the ISS project on continuous knowledge.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. I just wanted to [INAUDIBLE] Chris a little bit on the idea of partisan science and the notion that there's something that distinctive about this particular administration. I have fond memories of the immortal interior secretary James Watt who at one point said that we didn't need to worry about conserving the environment, because the end of times were near.
And so you know, I mean, I think this administration may be unusually-- I mean, I think it may be an extreme position on these issues. But I think that we see elements of this that have emerged in previous times. And it seems to me that it's less a question of partisanship.
Because as you point out, the previous Bush administration was quite different than the current one. And is it really a question that a partisanship which [INAUDIBLE] of organizational interest or political interest as much as it is a question of ideology, and that is where you have administrations that have much higher levels of ideological motivation where this kind of problem really emerges? And I think we see elements of that in the Reagan administration much less than the first Bush administration, much more than the current administration.
What I see is it's not so much an issue of partisan science as a challenge of an alternative mental construct of a conservative movement that has its own truth claims, has a very different way of looking at the world. So I guess I just push you a little bit to think of it more in terms of ideology and less in terms of partisanship.
CHRIS MOONEY: Well, this is definitions. If you agree with me that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are more consistent with what the Republican Party is today than George HW Bush and Richard Nixon, then-- and I fully concede the party could change again, maybe as a reaction against Bush now.
But if that is consistent with what the party became, the party of modern conservatism, then yeah. What I was objecting to was the ideology of modern conservatism as, you know, manifested through the Republican Party, which it had taken over, and probably still runs. So it's both, right?
And I think it's as simple as that. I think that Reagan showed many of the same tendencies that George W. Bush has now taken to an even greater extent. And one of the reasons that I think Reagan didn't get as far-- there were many-- but one of them was the Democrats ran Congress, and they screamed bloody murder about some of the things that were going on at the Environmental Protection Agency and other places that really sound very similar to what we've now seen again under Bush where Republicans were not playing defense. They were just sort of letting it all go by. So there was not a check from the other branch, and that's very significant.
And also, the Reagan administration, you know, there were sort of the bad apples and the good apples, if you will. And you know, with the Bush administration, there aren't these big public figures who were fighting back like C. Everett Koop was doing, or like Lee Thomas at the EPA saying, scientific uncertainty is not a reason to wait to take action on ozone depletion, and they did that, and the Montreal Protocol was under Reagan.
You know, I feel like that kind of thing wouldn't go on as much, because there's more forcing of ideological adherence now than there was. So you know, again, it's a difference of degree, right? And I wouldn't argue [INAUDIBLE].
RON: I think we have probably one more question. Yes, on the aisle?
AUDIENCE: Quick question for Mr. Mooney. Obama or Hillary?
CHRIS MOONEY: You know, personally Obama. But I don't see a science leader in the field, right? That would have been Gore, presumably. Someone who's distinguished on scientific topics. But I'm hoping that most of them will be better anyway.
RON: That can't count as the last question. That was a trick question. Yeah, on the front row here.
AUDIENCE: First of all, I'd like to congratulate you. I've told my colleagues many times that the only way it makes science sexy is if people associated with science becomes sexier. So I congratulate you on making Wired's 2005 10 Sexiest Geeks.
CHRIS MOONEY: I was going to put that in the bio.
RON: I took it out of the bio.
CHRIS MOONEY: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I guess the big question I have is at least when I get up in the morning-- sometimes late morning, sometimes early afternoon-- I go into my department and go run some data, stuff like that. What draws me is not the prospect of discovering another client. What draws me is not the prospect of expanding the frontiers of new knowledge. What fundamentally gets me there is that I respect and admire the quality and character and the integrity of the people I work with, and who astound me, day in and day out, who are willing to commit to this long war against [INAUDIBLE] or whatever.
Is science doing enough to churn out the sort of people who have the sort of organizational ability, the quality of character, the integrity where people will say, well, I may disagree with him on global warming, but I respect him or her? Someone who can be the [INAUDIBLE] or the-- pick your scientific hero-- and really be the sort of person who provides the leadership, moral-- if we can use the word moral in a liberal audience like this-- as well as intellectual?
CHRIS MOONEY: Can I just clarify? Is science producing statesmen or is science producing brilliant people? Which one are you asking?
AUDIENCE: I don't think they're mutually-- I hope they're not mutually exclusive.
CHRIS MOONEY: Well, no, but they're different. And I think the science community is shot through with brilliant people, and they have no lack. And if you give them enough time, they will find all these different creative ways of attacking a problem until they understand it, provided they're interested in it and they're funded to do it. So I think they're great at that.
Leadership from the scientific community, especially on political subjects, sometimes I think trickier. You know, sort of great science statesmen. I don't know. I mean, we don't have one in the current administration. The political leader of science, in some sense, is John Marburger, who the scientific community is completely fed up with. And I think that there hasn't been the kind of leadership that I would want to see from scientists in terms of communicating knowledge.
And I feel like often, scientists-- you know, this goes back to some comments earlier. Oftentimes, they're just content to do their brilliant work and remain in that lab rather than coming before the Congress, the media to really sort of spread a message, which requires being more than a scientist. It requires, in some sense, being a leader as well.
And there are people who do that, but we need more of those, sort of the third culture person. Someone who gets something about science, but gets something about something else too. I think those are incredibly valuable, and we need more of them.
RON: I think we can have our reception now. Thank you, Chris, so much. You really [INAUDIBLE].
So next door, we have some drinks, and the conversation could go on.
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A lecture by Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican War on Science," followed by faculty panel and audience discussion.
Panel members include:
Kurt Gottfried, Physics, Cornell University
Steve Hilgartner, Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University
Ted Lowi, Government, Cornell University
Jon Shields, University of Colorado
Moderated by Ron Herring.
Chris Mooney's book has documented increasingly intrusive partisan effects on the practice of science, and serious consequences thereof. The broader questions include relationships between science and state, government and scientists, and real effects of distorted knowledge or ignorance. Beyond partisan science, how inevitable is the intertwining of science and politics given the embedded nature of science in society?
The forum was cosponsored by the ISS Contentious Knowledge Theme Project and the Ben and Rhoda Belnick Fund for Government Studies at Cornell.