Jonathan Adler replies to my reply, and I am now replying. Or something.
Because Adler is keeping things civil, I am going to strive to do so also–but I still don’t get his take on the stem cell issue. Adler says he stands by his statment that I claim “the number of cell lines, rather than ideological opposition to the destruction of embryos, drove Bush policy.” For goodness sakes, no. With the stem cell example, I’m trying to show how cynical the Bushies are with scientific information, whatever the issue. In my reading, the impetus behind the Bush policy was actually to find a compromise that would make the president look wise and Solomonic. So the administration cherry-picked a phony number to achieve their apparent middle ground between those whose “ideological opposition to the destruction of embryos” was absolute, and those whose devotion to research trumped any qualms.
Trouble is, the Bushies didn’t care about the actual science; they just cared about how they could use it to position the president. The result is the truly disastrous stem cell policy, which doesn’t even make sense on its own terms, but which has nevertheless been clung to with all sorts of post-hoc justifications.
Adler and I are no closer to agreeing on science in the regulatory process either. In essence, I contend that the Data Quality Act, “sound science” reforms to the Endangered Species Act, etc, are subterfuge measures which do industry’s bidding by opening up the regulatory process to all manner of science-based attacks. Adler counters that it’s just shifting the burden of proof around. But I say, look at how special interests–and particularly industry–behave when you give them these kinds of options. Hiring their own scientists to dispute findings, launching nasty attacks on the credibility of scientists whose findings they don’t accept…the last thing we need is to set up government processes to facilitate this kind of behavior.
The difference between us is that Adler doesn’t seem to seriously worry about the well documented science-disputing behavior of industry–especially tobacco, but it’s a systematic problem–when its products are challenged in some way. Corporations have vast resources and they pour them into fighting over science whenever it offers a way of staving off expensive regulatory action. David Michaels has perhaps been most eloquent about how this “manufacturing uncertainty” strategy works, so I will refer one here to his writings.
Meanwhile, the “precautionary principle”: Any environmentalist who claims this principle is inherently “scientific” in nature is just being silly. The example Adler provides, though, doesn’t show this. It’s a book declaring that “the precautionary principle calls for taking action against threatened harm to people and ecosystems even in the absence of full scientific certainty.” Um, yeah. It’s a policy position and a political outlook–and a good one, as long as it’s not taken to ridiculous extremes.
Regarding “everybody does it”: Adler writes that “there is evidence of science abuse by the Bush Administration in part because left-leaning activist groups, like the Union of Concerned Scientists and PEER, have sought to document these examples…” In fact, the evidence initially emerged because scientists themselves, within the government, got fed up and went to the media. The original documentation thus came from journalists long before advocacy groups got into the “scientific integrity” game (which I agree has since become a cottage industry). I suppose Adler can argue that the journalists who originally exposed all the science abuse stories, like the Times‘ Andy Revkin, have a liberal bias. But really, that’s the only course available to him if he wishes to insist that the scandal over the Bush administration and science is largely a political construct: attack the media as well as the advocacy groups, because the media originally generated the scandal.
Adler also says that the latest UCS survey might finally substantiate my ultimate claim that there’s something uniquely troubling about the Bush administration. Why this survey in particular? UCS and PEER have been surveying agency after agency–the FDA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA-Fisheries–for some time now, and continually exposing large numbers of scientists complaining of political interference. The latest survey just adds to a large and ever growing literature, which documents hundreds of scientists across the government reporting problems. At some point, the evidence becomes pretty massive, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I thank Adler for the continuing, valuable exchanges.
UPDATE:: Adler replies again here, and with that, I think the fun is over, folks…