I know it is appropriate to have a range of opinions among the talking heads representing a news agency, and MSNBC certainly does have a range. Pat Buchanan, regular commentator on two or three MSNBC news shows, probably serves at the most conservative individual in the MSNBC panoply.
But he has to go now.
This letter comes as a reaction to Buchanan’s most recent column, which addresses Darwinian theory and evolution in an over the top intellectually dishonest, inaccurate, and offensive manner. I will not discuss the details of his absurd column; several of my colleagues on the blogosphere have (see “Old fossil” by PZ Myers, “Buchanan Blathers” by Ed Brayton and “We Don’t Take Pat Buchanan Seriously” by Mike Haubrich). Rather, I’d like to simply call for Buchanan’s retirement from his role as MSNBC commentator, with this letter being the written manifestation of Buchanan’s final steps into unacceptable offensiveness and intellectual irrelevancy.
It has always annoyed me that MSNBC would use the services of Pat Buchanan. I would have thought that by now we would have put aside all remaining vestiges of the Nixon Administration. In fact, I always thought that MSNBC’s choice to use Buchanan as a regular was moderately offensive to those of us who suffered through the Nixon years and were, at the time of Buchanan’s joining MSNBC, now suffering through the Bush years.
You see, the self-righteous politics at any cost, “if the president does it it is legal” attitude of the 1970s right wing has moved off the stage over recent decades, and most of the practitioners of that attitude (many in prison) moved with it. So what was Buchanan doing on your show?
Now, we are seeing a new shift in political framework. Over the last decade we’ve seen a relentless erosion of the role of quality science in the forum of public policy, and a steady induration of ideological humors into the scientific discourse. Press agencies, even including the relatively intellectual and progressive MSNBC, have not helped as much as they have hurt society, the economy, and as a matter of fact, the truth itself, by insisting that every issue has two valid sides in matters of science (it doesn’t, by the way). If someone says “global warming is real” there MUST be someone out there saying it is not. Find that person and put them on TV. The “balance” of viewpoints “pro” and “con” with respect to this and other important scientific issues has had a chilling, negative effect on science. At this point in time, more people die younger, suffer more, and live less happy lives than they otherwise might because science has been so badly treated by conservative politicians. That is indisputable fact. It will take years to undo the damage that right wing ideological anti-science has done.
Although there is still a great deal of work to do, it is a fact that as we speak the nature of science funding, evaluation, reporting, and implementation is rapidly changing in a post-Bush environment. Suddenly, science can breathe.
But many elements of the right wing hang tenaciously on to the ideological approach in which real science is denigrated and damaged wherever doing so will produce either profit or power. As a long time voice of this sort of conservatism (“Right from the beginning” is his motto, after all) Pat Buchanan now represents the damaging fringe, the corrosive edge, the untenable underbelly of political commentary at MSNBC. As the anti-science gambit of the right wing is moved, still struggling but doomed, off the stage, Pat Buchanan is left on your stage … the MSNBC stage … playing a tune on the atonal kazoo of ignorance to which fewer and fewer people dance.
That era of political whitewash of scientific truths and mean spirited hobbling of progress in medical, life science, and earth science studies is flanked by several events. The election of Ronald Reagan and the daparture of Bush II from office are volcanic layers dating the rise and fall of the eclipse of science. The publication of The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America are literary bookends. The first Earth Day, which some will remember as a radical act, and the IPCC report on climate change are the embryo and the wise sage representing different ends of a remarkable developmental period.
Perhaps the retirement of science-friendly Walter Cronkite in 1981 and the retirement from MSNBC of science-unfriendly Pat Buchanan … this year … would be appropriate era-markers for the dark ages of science’s role in the American political forum.
Denizen of the Liberal Blogosphere