The Intersection

Adler, Round II?

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…


  1. #1 NJ
    February 9, 2007

    Jeez, Chris! A continuing civil dialogue? You’re going to get a bad rep in the blogosphere if you keep this up…

  2. #2 Dark Tent
    February 9, 2007

    “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”

    You are exactly right, Chris. That is precisely what is so insidious about the Bush administration. They exploit the science for their own ends.

    They did it on the climate issue by highlighting the “scientific uncertainty”. The Bushies used that as an excuse to adopt a policy of “more research is needed before action is warranted.” Sure, there were uncertainties, but there is uncertianty associated with any scientific measurement and that does not mean that “we know nothing and therefore can make no judgment about what to do”.

    The other game that Bush plays is to have someone under him say they agree with the science while the official policy is something quite different. In the case of global warming, he had Marburger saying that anthropgenic global warming is real and should be addressed, while the policy was just the opposite.

    The worst part, of course, is that such misuse of science requires a conscious effort by those who know enough about the science to exploit what they perceive as loopholes (lawyers that they are) for their own purposes. In other words, the whole thing is dishonest and deceptive.

  3. #3 Herb
    February 9, 2007

    On stem cells, I think I see Adler’s point. You are claiming that Bush made up his mind on stem cells well in advance, and therefore he is loose with the actual facts. In other words, policy first, facts second. But…

    For instance, he writes the Bush Administration policy was “based on science fiction” and “a textbook example of how bad scientific information leads, inexorably, to bad policy.” (p. 3).

    Here it says that bad info came first and the bad policy was based on them. So which came first – the bad info or the bad policy?

  4. #4 Herb
    February 9, 2007

    IMO, a person getting his facts wrong is not nearly as bad as a person systematicaly editing the conclusions of studies he disagrees with (i.e. editing them pre-publication) or hiring only those scientists who will produce a desired answer. Certainly the left gets their science wrong at times, but do we have examples of the left editing scientific papers or getting the answers they want through coersion?

  5. #5 Rick Bogle
    February 9, 2007

    Research data is frequently subjected to the seive of personal bias, and biases come in many forms. ID proponents see God’s work in every mutation while evolutionists see chance and natural selection.

    The best science seeks, not always successfully, to sidestep these biases with double blinding and peer review.

    The primary biases seem to be religious, financial and egotistical. Financial bias seems to be more detrimental to clear thinking and ethical decision-making about how science should proceed than do the other two.

    We can devise methods to mitigate religious and egotistical bias, but overcoming financial bias is unlikely. Money, and the power it brings, seems an insurmountable hurdle in America. The force that can be brought to bear through manipulation of media and in political races makes it a near certainty that vested financial interests will always be able to control policy to their advantage over time.

  6. #6 David Bruggeman
    February 9, 2007

    Chris, I think you’re spot on about the “precautionary principle” being a policy position rather than a scientific one. In fact, every person who has advanced the argument that global warming policies would harm the economy (and therefore shouldn’t be pursued) is really arguing for a precautionary princple based on economics.

  7. #7 gerald spezio
    February 9, 2007

    Adler, esquire, is a trained lawyer and law professor who piously teaches his dutiful students that the legal culture and its mandatory adversarial system leads directly to truth. This definition of adversarial combat leading to truth is chiseled in mythological granite. No fight – no law.

    As high priest of the monopolistic legal trade, Adler delivers his stark naked presciption; “If political abuse of science is to be controlled, however, ONE HAS TO GET BEYOND THE FANTASY THAT “OUR GUYS” ARE BETTER THAN “THEIR GUYS” (WHICHEVER SIDE ONE IS ON)…”

    But Professor Adler by definition; no fighting – no law! No fight – no fee? The sacred top down medieval knights in shining armor doing combat for their suffering clients is a fantasy! O.J. and the dream team was a farce?

    How else will lawyers ply their lucrative linquistic trade in shadow boxing as due processs? As a law professor you must know that the largest category in the U.S. Code Annotated is attorney’s fees. Anybody can look in his local telephone directory and count the endless pages of lawyer ads seeking raw material. “Have you been injured? Let us help you.” Attorney’s fees amounting to hundreds of billions per year can’t be a fantasy. A Congress comprised of more than fifty per-cent lawyers is meaningless?

    Such cavalier social presciptions would surely pauperize an entire wealthy and powerful social class. Not only the lowly sole practictioners plying the civil dispute/divorce scam. But the high powered Washington superlawyers both right and left would surely balk at such legally unsophisticated solutions. It would leave the suffering public unable to choose their champion lawyer to protect them – usually from other lawyers.

    Think Top down and class analysis. Not right/left. Just for starters; Both Both Mooney and Adler groomed undergrad at Yale. Bill and Hilary were annointed at Yale Law. Hilary, esq, is on deck to practice more lawyering as president. Both Kerry and Dubya are mumbo-jumbo Yalie Skull and Boners. Dubya was rejected by the U. of Texas Law School, so he scribbled an M.B.A. at Harvard. Even Daddy Bush knows his boola boola and mumbo-jumbo. Besides, Baker and Botts can really stand and deliver for a price. Take a good look at who runs the game. Top down.

    There are more lawyers in Washington D.C. than any other place in the world. Adler completely blows off such a glaring and inescapable variable. Never mentioning his class of esquires, Adler labels our problems as a “political culture that likes to pretend.” No mention, of course, of a lawyer culture that is trained to pretend? No claim that Washington is chock full of the medieval adversarial lawyer ethic that Adler openly decries? Why would anybody believe a man who completely insults our intelligence with such obvious charades?

    Indeed, Adler never even intimates that his very elitist lawyer culture, trained to pretend and pretend that they aren’t pretending, has anything to do with the abuse of truth and its corollary – science. Adler wants us to keep us barking up the tree of classless hydraulic pressures. While you are looking for the Columbian Necklaces and hydraulic pressures, you won’t be looking for lawyers playing “let’s pretend.” Adler’s lawyerly let’s pretend keeps us from looking for the real murderers and lawyers in the political works.

  8. #8 Jonathan Adler
    February 9, 2007

    I’m tickled that Mr. Spezio thinks he knows what I teach my students. Too bad for him he misses the mark.

    More substantively, my final surreply in this exchange is here:


  9. #9 Dark Tent
    February 9, 2007

    David said: “Chris, I think you’re spot on about the “precautionary principle” being a policy position rather than a scientific one. Every person who has advanced the argument that global warming policies would harm the economy (and therefore shouldn’t be pursued) is really arguing for a precautionary princple based on economics.”

    There are very good scientific reasons to be cautious when it comes to dealing with something like global climate, which could have potentially large negative impacts on a very large number of people throughout the world — impacts that may well be irreversible.

    On the other hand, there is good reason to believe that not doing anything about global warming may be more costly in the long run than doing something to adress the problem before it gets out of hand. In fact, there is ample economic evidence that cutting CO2 emissions could actually save money in many cases, so the economic precautionary principle is on substantially shakier ground than the ecological one.

  10. #10 ss
    February 9, 2007

    “how cynical the Bushies are”

    I stopped reading there.

  11. #11 Dark Tent
    February 9, 2007

    “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…”

    So because the examples were documented by a group that Adler categorizes as “left-leaning”, none of what they say can be true, right?

    Has Adler ever heard of “evaluating the evidence based on its won merits”?

    Apparently not.

  12. #12 gerald spezio
    February 10, 2007

    Mr. Adler, I am not a squire and the mere mention of lawyers, judges, and courts makes me cringe. Therefore, the very specialized term “surreply” stumped me cold. I was enlightened here;
    Grazie for stimulating our understanding of due process. I am reminded that medieval lawyers were paid by the word.

  13. #13 gerald spezio
    February 10, 2007

    One of my favorite legal limelights in Washington, Doug J. Feith, is the subject of a pertinent laffer here;
    Mr. Feith, esquire, most assuredly never took a formal class in the adversarial technique of mystification, shuck and jive, or even a class labeled, wordsmithing, while he earned his J.D. at Georgetown Law.

  14. #14 gerald spezio
    February 10, 2007

    The lawyerlady at this website wittily shows that at least one lawyer has a sense of humor about the legal game and its gamesmanship. The website didn’t print as a click, so I’m trying again;

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