The Sciences

"Restoring Science to Its Rightful Place": Where It All Went Wrong

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyOct 28, 2010 12:40 PM

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Miller-McCune has an article, featuring me a lot, about why the Obama administration failed (not through any fault of its own, really) to restore science to Washington, as the president pledged in his inaugural address. Instead, we're on the verge of having a new army of climate deniers in Congress. My first quote about this situation evinces general shock at how far we've tumbled, and how fast:

“I did not feel then,” Mooney said, thinking back on the last election, “the sense that it would derail this quickly, this badly.”

What happened? Well, ClimateGate happened. Then the Tea Party happened. Climate science got stronger, but the issue became highly politicized and resistance became stronger than ever. I'm quoted on this, too:

"I think there’s no clear relationship between an increase in scientific knowledge and increasing public acceptance, if the issue is controversial. They can completely go in the opposite direction, and in fact climate change is a great example. We need to give up on the idea that truth finally triumphs because science figures something out. It triumphs within science, but that’s very different from having it triumph within society.”

So now what? Get ready for a different kind of war on science--fought against an administration, rather than by an administration, as occurred in the Bush years:

[Mooney] predicts that the ensuing scene, a bottom-up “war on science” driven by grassroots conservative anger, will look different from the top-down “war on science” that existed during the Bush administration. Then, the political meddling was largely a public relations push to align the government’s scientific output with the president’s position on climate action (or his supporters’ position on contraception or stem cell research. This time, Mooney said, scientific skeptics are not trying to control the administration’s message, but to derail an administration’s goal. Instead of quietly rewritten climate reports, we may get theatrical congressional hearings investigating scientific research.

May? I'd say we will get them, unless the polls are radically wrong about the way the election is shaping up. It'll be Ken Cuccinelli all over again, but in Congress this time. Where does this leave us? Not a good place, but we've got to learn something from what happened. Now's a time for figuring out where the rails of rationality were when we left them.

“Basically,” Mooney concluded, “we’re all in a huge state of introspection about what the hell didn’t work.”

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