The Intersection

Jonathan Adler Review of RWOS

While I was battling through the snow on my way to Ithaca to give a talk about my new book, my old one was prompting quite a stir over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Jonathan Adler has done a lengthy, critical review of the book for the journal Regulation, published by the Cato Institute, and that’s what touched off all the commentary.

I’ve been off the “war on science” beat lately and am feeling a tad rusty, but I’m going to try to respond to Adler’s review if I have time. Today I start jury duty, which is a bit of a complication, but I still may get around to doing a reply.

In the meantime, feel free to post any reactions to Adler’s review here (or at the Volokh Conspiracy). Sneak preview: To a large extent, it’s the familiar “everybody politicizes science, why just focus on the right” kind of argument….


  1. #1 Dark Tent
    January 29, 2007

    “Third and most important, Mooney pays little attention to the larger institutional context that generates political pressures on science.” — Jonathan Adler

    Institutional context?

    Like pervasive corporate lobbying that relies heavily on the use of think tanks to get out the message?

    What a hoot. Did Adler even read the book? — or just reviews by libertarian types?

    As you indicate, Chris, it looks to me like he’s (belatedly) jumping on the “everybody does it so get over it” bandwagon (so popular with the libertarians) because he has nothing original to say.

    How boring. (Yawn.) That argument was lame to begin with and has grown lamer with each use — and it has been used a great deal (indeed completely overused).

  2. #2 Agnostic
    January 29, 2007

    And here I thought you were going to talk about that designer of spunky throw pillows and pottery…

  3. #3 David Roberts
    January 29, 2007

    When the right starts saying “everybody does it,” that’s a sure sign that they’ve been called out on their BS and are trying to squirm out from under the consequences.

    Incidentally, the same thing is going on now with this rash of articles about the “new middle” in the climate debate. The right’s been caught out in their extremism and denialism, so now they’re oh-so-eager to say everyone does it, both sides have extremes, can’t we all just be reasonable …

    In both cases, yes, both sides do it, but not an equal amount, not with equal severity, and not with equal consequences. Nice try, though.

  4. #4 Fred Bortz
    January 29, 2007

    I agree with the others. The best he can say is that he doesn’t agree with everything you characterize as science abuse. Well, I didn’t agree with the word “Republican” in the title–until I read it. (See )

    It’s pretty tepid stuff. I don’t think it is even good enough to qualify as beating a dead horse.

    BTW, I expect a full report on your jury duty. My two times on a civil court jury, including one where we denied the plaintiff’s ridiculous foray into an insurance company’s deep pockets, were fascinating experiences in real-life theater.

  5. #5 Benny
    January 29, 2007

    Regulation is the journal where Pat Michaels, Fred Singer and all the denialists publish their rantings. It’s also where a number of the tobacco denialsts submitted their musings back in the nineties.

    And it’s also where our very own Roger Pielke Jr. ran an article that “every President skews the science to their needs, so Bush is not being as political as everybody says.”

    So there’s a history with that publication.

  6. #6 Jonathan H. Adler
    January 29, 2007

    Chris —

    It’s too bad that your readers don’t appear to have actually read the review itself. Quoting and deriding the abstract hardly amounts to withering criticism. I expect you’ll have a more substantive response, and I’ll post a link when it appears.



  7. #7 Benny
    January 30, 2007

    Dave Roberts has a post up pointing out that Roger Pielke Jr. “has been invited” by the Republicans to come and testify.

  8. #8 Dark Tent
    January 30, 2007

    It’s too bad that your readers don’t appear to have actually read the review itself.” — Jonathan Alter

    Is that really what Alter meant to say? I think not. A high school english teacher would be all over that (at least mine would have been.)

    I believe what Alter meant to say was “It’s too bad that your readers didn’t actually read the review itself.”

    “I expect you’ll have a more substantive response, and I’ll post a link when it appears.” — Jonathan Alter

    ..and we’re still all waiting for a substantive response to “Republican War on Science”.

    But, somehow, I doubt it will be coming from Alter.

  9. #9 Dark Tent
    January 30, 2007

    While we’re on the topic of “The boy who cried ‘Everyone does it so get over it’ “,

    Thanks for the link .. and the laugh.

  10. #10 Jonathan H. Adler
    January 30, 2007

    Dark Tent —

    Given that you misrepresent (or misunderstand) my argument about institutional context, it would appear that you did not actually read the review. This is my conjecture based upon your comment. I did not write “It is too bad that your readers didn’t actually read the review itself” because I lacked any knowledge of whether you and the others actually read the review. Geez. I would think regular readers of a science blog wouldn’t need this spelled out. (I’d also expect folks to know the difference between me and Jonathan ALTER.)

    More broadly, my point is not that “Everyone does it so get over it.” Yes “everyone does it,” but this does not excuse it. I think that the political abuse of science is a real and growing problem, that it is pervasive, and that it requires broad institutional reforms. Among other things, a partisan or ideological take on the politicization of science ignores the broader institutional context in which science politicization occurs, and is unlikely to produce any meaningful change.


  11. #11 Thom
    January 30, 2007

    Boy, I can hear Pielke already. Anyone who calls his “blue dog democrat” credentials into question is not engaging in “substance.”

  12. #12 Dark Tent
    January 30, 2007

    I used the name “Alter” instead of Adler above.

    My apologies.

  13. #13 gerald spezio
    January 30, 2007

    Yessir, law professor Adler you said it, and I quote it. Posta read it, right?

    “Existing institutions and legal structures create hydraulic pressure to politicize science for political ends.” “Hydraulic pressure to politicize” should go down as one of the classic subterfuges of legal/literary rhetoric. Hydraulic pressure does give a somewhat scientific slant to the scam, but tells us nothing. Maybe you could label it – the enema axiom of public choice theory.

    Your critical but operationally vague focus on “the larger institutional pressures that are inexorably brought to bear on science within the political process.” could follow as the more water postulate. Memba the irrational schmuck being tortured for witchcraft by placing heavier and heavier weights on his chest. When the torturers asked the suffering bastard if he was ready some rational choices, he sighed, “more weight.”

    Smartass Lila Rajiva makes this very point in her book about prisoner torture in Irag – The Language of Empire. You can lead a prisoner to water, but you can’t make him love James Madison and Jesus.

  14. #14 gerald spezio
    January 30, 2007

    Focusing again on the inescapable import of lawyerperson Adler’s pregnant statement; “…the larger institutional pressures that are exorably brought to bear on science within the political process.” What better antidote to Adler’s inexorable lawyering and theological obscurantism than scientist Richard Feynman. Feynman’s sacred chapter in “What do you care what other people think” lays out the disasterous “institutional pressures” directly leading to the tragic deaths of the Challenger spacecraft crew in 1987. Hydraulic pressure and then some, you might say. And black timeless night, too.

    Here is the penultimate example of politics totally trumping science with all its deadly consequences. “O” rings, temperature, and truth. The sacrificed Challenger crew wasn’t buried in the dirt for very long before another gentleman lawyer/politician, William Rogers, tried every lawyerly scam to foil and fool Feynman’s scientific quest for the truth.

    Although nature cannot be fooled, we shouldn’t be surprised when a lawyerfish plays the fool and tries to throw pepper in our eyes.

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