The Intersection

A lot of people right now are striving desperately to establish this notion. Neil Munro’s big story in the latest National Journal (here, subscription) is the latest example. In essence, it postulates a bunch of new rifts that are going to open between scientists and Democrats now that the latter are in power. I’m quoted in there with this comment:

“There is not going to be enough money to go around, so there will be a lot of scientific priorities that will be hard to meet,” Mooney said. But, “I don’t think it’s going to be the same adversarial situation [seen in the Bush years]. Very few or no Democrats take stances that are anathema to the scientific community, like denying global warming or denying evolution.”

The quotation is accurate enough, though I would have liked to add a few more qualifiers and caveats–whether I did or not in conversation with Munro, I don’t remember.

In any case, I stand by the general sentiment, and no one has yet even begun to convince me otherwise. The Bush administration vs. the scientific community was a pretty unique, fraught, and nasty situation that I don’t see much chance of being replicated under Obama–for the following reason. The defining characteristic of the Bush “war on science” was that the administration itself was attacking and denying core scientific conclusions, and thus trashing any notion that we ought respect the scientific community’s expertise. I don’t think the Obama administration is going to do that. Ergo, I don’t think we’re going to have anything like the same sorts of problems.

Comments

  1. #1 Bruce
    March 6, 2009

    With Obama, it will be rifts about spending priorities.
    With Bush Jr., it was rifts about facts and reality.
    Big difference.

  2. #2 David Bruggeman
    March 6, 2009

    “Democrat War on Science”? Somebody’s been drinking Republican talking points Kool-Aid. Whether or not you think it’s a valid meme, the proper modifier is Democratic.

    I will be surprised if nobody tries to smack the DWOS label on any future funding struggles. War metaphors are just too much red meat to pass up when trying to agitate an opposition.

  3. #3 Jon Winsor
    March 6, 2009

    It’s the usual “Both sides do it!!” Trying to take the potency out of the critique…

  4. #4 Wes Rolley
    March 6, 2009

    We all are soldiers in this war, whether we want to be or not.

    At least, the good guys just picked up a few allies. See Al Jazeera English on Arctic Sea Ice.

    The conflict seems to be between those who look at the world clearly and those who impose their favorite filter.

    Maybe it is time to re-constitute the Know Nothing Party. It would have a lot of members these days. And maybe like the original, it would quickly disappear.

  5. #5 David
    March 6, 2009

    I’d like to see Pres. Obama hold science in it’s rightful place, as he promised. But there are Democrats who hold views that are contradictory to reality. Senator Harkin and his support for alternative quackery, and R. Kennedy Jr with his attacks on childhood vaccines, to name a few. Trial lawyers, who tend to support the democratic party, introduce a lot of bad science into courtroom testimony (I could name a few major liability cases decided on the basis of hokum). None of those are part of the administration, but there is a potential for problems here. I think they won’t be as severe as the awful W era.

  6. #6 Orac
    March 6, 2009

    But there are Democrats who hold views that are contradictory to reality. Senator Harkin and his support for alternative quackery, and R. Kennedy Jr with his attacks on childhood vaccines, to name a few. Trial lawyers, who tend to support the democratic party, introduce a lot of bad science into courtroom testimony (I could name a few major liability cases decided on the basis of hokum). None of those are part of the administration, but there is a potential for problems here. I think they won’t be as severe as the awful W era.

    Exactly. There are a bunch of profoundly antiscience Democrats out there like Senator Harkin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. They will likely cause trouble as they see an opportunity in a Democratic administration to push through their agenda. Harkin is particularly troubling because he has promised to yoke any health care reform plan that the Obama administration might come up with to accepting “integrative medicine” (in truth, “integrating” the quackery that is the vast majority of “alternative” medicine) with real medicine. He is going to cause a lot of headaches, and, because he is a powerful and senior senator, he has a nontrivial chance of getting his way. Anyone who values science in medicine should be very, very worried.

  7. #7 natural cynic
    March 6, 2009

    I’ll bet that if you scratch a few Blue Dog Democrats, you’ll find a few creationist fleas.

  8. #8 Eli Rabett
    March 6, 2009

    The one lesson Eli learned was never do qualifiers with the press. They don’t understand and don’t have room for them. You have to find a way to noun verb subject what you want and say it three times in succession.

  9. #9 Ashutosh
    March 6, 2009
  10. #10 MikeB
    March 7, 2009

    Lets not confuse the reality few ‘conflicted’ (lets use a nice phrase) Dems like Harkin and Kennedy with the Bush crowd. Kennedy’s work on the environment has been outstanding, its just a shame that the mercury thing has bite him and refuses to let go. Harkin might be a complete idiot on alt. therapies, but on healthcare generally, he’s been fighting the good fight.

    With the Republicans, it was practically policy to hate science in any way, with climate change being the best example. There is little chance of that happening under Obama. The biggest problems with Obama is finding enough cash for everything that needs doing, and idiot senators getting in the way due to their own pet projects/lobbied interests (see the members for NJ and Michigan). But if Rahm Emanuel is on the case, I suspect that Harkin may be told to let it go or else.

    And whatever else you might say about the Dem’s, they are nowhere near as crazy as Bachmann & co.

  11. #11 Science Avenger
    March 7, 2009

    The GOP was on science was on science, per se, any time it ran afoul of their political aims. Particular Democrats have particular problems with particular sciences, a completely different and much smaller problem. Joe the Plumber, and the intellectual egalitarianism he represents, is the embodiment of their anti-science view. There is no equivalent on the left, not for any group that would need a bigger-than-a-phone-booth meeting place anyway.

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