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As Science Goes, So Goes the Nation

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJune 13, 2006 6:20 PM


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Seed has just posted my column from the latest issue. It's a piece in which I try to grapple with the question of why the science/politics issue has become such a big deal--much bigger than even I anticipated (and I had every reason to overestimate its potency). The answer, I conclude, can be summarized as follows: "George W. Bush." As I put it:

The "Bush is anti science" meme carries political weight because it underscores why so many Americans (including previous supporters) are becoming increasingly disenchanted with Bush: They don't think he's fit to lead, and they don't believe many of his appointees are competent administrators of various branches of the government, virtually all of which require some form of scientific or other expertise.

I really think this is the rub here. It's a point I elaborate on in much more detail in the new preface to The Republican War on Science, written for the paperback edition, which is due out in the fall. But meanwhile, lest anyone think that only Bush's administration misuses science, here's Bill Clinton telling Floridians that global warming is "going to lead to more hurricanes." If he had said "going to lead to more STRONG hurricanes," I'd have had no problem with the statement. But there's no current scientific basis (beyond mere speculation) for the claim that GW will lead to more total storms (except insofar as a general strengthening of the average storm will lead more tropical storms to reach hurricane class, but I highly doubt that's what Clinton meant). The changes that we may be seeing from GW appear to be changes in storm intensity, not storm numbers. Just to be clear: I'm not saying Clinton is intentionally misusing science here. (The question of intentionality came up in my debate with Ron Bailey about which side is "worse" in this area.) With a statement like this, I'm guessing that Bubba just made an honest mistake. Nevertheless, he shouldn't have said it.

P.S. Looks like Alberto won't make it to hurricane status after all...

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