The Loom

Mooney on the Science War

Chris Mooney has just blogged on a depressing new report that came out today that documents how the Bush administration puts politics before science.

Comments

  1. #1 Brent Michael Krupp
    July 9, 2004

    Didn’t the scientists start it with things like global warming? If you don’t agree with the current orthodoxy, decided as much based on (liberal) politics as actual science, you won’t get published let alone be stamped with the label “scientific”. Not saying it’s good for the Bush admin to act as it does, but it is entirely understandable.

  2. #2 CDS
    July 9, 2004

    Why do people think that there is some kind of scientific orthodox view and that you can’t get published if you disagree with it? I’ve heard this argument from people of all political persuasions and I just don’t see it. Look, like in anything, there is a language you learn to speak, a set of rules you learn to follow when developing your arguments, and a body of literature you consider – but if you do your homework and have half a brain, you’ll get your paper published. It’s really not that hard.

    Think about it: quantum mechanics was not exactly part of scientific orthodox thinking at the turn of the century. Yet, it took no time at all for it to permeate almost all of physics. People will accept any idiotic idea if you can actually use it to explain data that no one else understands.

  3. #3 Walt
    July 9, 2004

    Brent, no offense, but your argumentsounds like a nice way to dimiss anything that doesn’t fit your particular political viewpoint. Creationists have used the same argument, claiming their work isn’t getting published in science journals because of bias against them.

  4. #4 Brent Michael Krupp
    July 10, 2004

    Remember Bjorn Lomborg? He defied the enviro-orthodoxy and Scientific American felt obliged to bend over backwards to savage him and attempt to discredit him without even addressing his actual thesis.

    Quantum mechanics was not orthodox thinking, but it also was not aligned with one particular side of a partisan political divide so it had a chance. Possibly also, that was a long time ago and a different era.

    Yeah, I guess creationist nutjobs say something similar, but they’re nutjobs and I’m not. You’ll have to take my word on it.

    I still remember Carl Sagan and his nuclear winter BS that was prompted pretty much 100% by his political opposition to Reagan and to a strong defense agains the Soviets. But he clothed it all in “science” and pretty much accused his opponents of also putting “politics before science”.

  5. #5 Walt
    July 12, 2004

    Uh… Lomborg wasn’t attacked simply because he was challenging “enviro-orthodoxy.” He was challenged because of his selective use of facts and his misrepresenations. SA did address his central thesis — their articles dissected his claims that the environment is improving — and for you to say otherwise is simply untrue. (Don’t take my word for it: SA has the series up on its web site). As far as Sagan’s “nuclear winter” theory, I don’t know anything about his reasons for that (although he was certainly a liberal). But it’s a pretty big stretch going from the flawed theory of one person to claiming that an entire scientific discipline is biased and wrong. If that were the case, then why believe anything coming from scientists? Again, your argument just sounds like a nice way to dismiss any facts that don’t fit your worldview.

  6. #6 dds
    July 12, 2004

    Well…Bush IS a politician, after all, not a scientist, so why do you expect him to put science before politics?

  7. #7 steve
    July 21, 2004

    Disagreements are what the scientific literature is all about. Anyone familiar with scientific literature for any field knows this.

  8. #8 Lee
    July 24, 2004

    Pot. kettle. Walt. Lomborg was vindicated (exonerated!) completely. Have you forgotten the Danish “scientific” kangaroo court?

  9. #9 Lee
    July 24, 2004

    Henry Kelly who is director of the Federation of American Scientists is also director of Scientists for Kerry.

    Politics meet science, science meet politics. As it ever was and always shall be.

    Have you figured out that the problem is neither science nor politics: It is that in the current social environment the politics of scientists (the complainers, anyway) don’t match the politics of politicians (the ones in office, anyway).

  10. #10 caerbannog
    July 24, 2004

    I still remember Carl Sagan and his nuclear winter BS that was prompted pretty much 100% by his political opposition to Reagan and to a strong defense agains the Soviets. But he clothed it all in “science” and pretty much accused his opponents of also putting “politics before science”.

    Sagan never got his nuclear-winter “theory” published in the scientific literature. So try don’t pin that one on the scientific community. Sagan (like Linus Pauling with his vitamin-C claims) was a very bright guy who wandered into crankhood — and one crank does not a scientific consensus make. In contrast to Sagan’s “nuclear-winter” hypothesizing, there is a strong and growing scientific consensus that anthropogenic global-warming is a genuine problem.


    It is that in the current social environment the politics of scientists (the complainers, anyway) don’t match the politics of politicians (the ones in office, anyway

    Well over 40 percent of the living Nobel laureates (physics,chemistry,medicine/physiology) in the USA and over 25 percent of living National Medal of Science winners so far have signed onto the Union of Concerned Scientists letter strongly protesting the Bush Administration’s science policy. That level of protest by so many prominent scientists against any presidential administration’s policies is simply unprecedented in US history. So I rather suspect that the problem is a bit bigger than “politics of scientists” not matching “politics of politicians”.

  11. #11 caerbannog
    July 25, 2004

    (repeat of previous post, with formatting fixes)


    (Brent Michael Krupp)

    I still remember Carl Sagan and his nuclear winter BS that was prompted pretty much 100% by his political opposition to Reagan and to a strong defense agains the Soviets. But he clothed it all in “science” and pretty much accused his opponents of also putting “politics before science”.

    Sagan never got his nuclear-winter “theory” published in the scientific literature. So try don’t pin that one on the scientific community. Sagan (like Linus Pauling with his vitamin-C claims) was a very bright guy who wandered into crankhood — and one crank does not a scientific consensus make. In contrast to Sagan’s “nuclear-winter” hypothesizing, there is a strong and growing scientific consensus that anthropogenic global-warming is a genuine problem.


    (Lee)
    It is that in the current social environment the politics of scientists (the complainers, anyway) don’t match the politics of politicians (the ones in office, anyway

    Well over 40 percent of the living Nobel laureates (physics,chemistry,medicine/physiology) in the USA and over 25 percent of living National Medal of Science winners so far have signed onto the Union of Concerned Scientists letter strongly protesting the Bush Administration’s science policy. That level of protest by so many prominent scientists against any presidential administration’s policies is simply unprecedented in US history. So I rather suspect that the problem is a bit bigger than “politics of scientists” not matching “politics of politicians”.

  12. #12 Dano
    July 26, 2004

    BTW, kudos for Carl.

    Nice piece in the NYT today.

    Back to our regularly scheduled program of caerbannog’s good shredding of bad agitprop.

    D

  13. #13 Tim the Enchanter
    July 26, 2004

    “I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

    “Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

    “There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    – Michael Crichton, MD.
    “Aliens Cause Global Warming”
    Caltech Michelin Lecture

  14. #14 walt
    July 26, 2004

    Wow. I can’t believe this post is still going on.

    Uh… I’m not sure I would use Crichton as a voice of authority. He’s displayed an anti-science streak in the past and has been taken to task for it by skeptics groups. (And I don’t think he really is an MD. If I remember right, he dropped out of med school just shy of getting his degree to pursue his writing. I could be wrong, though.)

    His argument is bunk. He completely ignores that a consensus could form because of strength of a theory, that it might produce those “reproducible results” he holds so high. This is just another way of saying “most scientists say so, but I know better!”

    Crichton also tends to be pretty sloppy with his facts, as Jim Norton points out in an analysis of another of his speeches: http://info-pollution.com/Crichton.htm

  15. #15 roy
    July 27, 2004

    walt,

    Ad hominem attacks are so convincing! Thanks for elevating the discussion. (BTW, he does have an MD. A google search to determine that took me less time than it took you to write the snide and untrue comment.)

    But, back to the world of facts. The Bush administration has (to the dismay of many libertarians) increased spending on research and development by 44 percent since 2001 to a record $132 billion in the fiscal 2005 budget request. He’s starving the sciences!

    Caerbannog,

    The Union of Concerned Scientist is a left-leaning organization with a strong idealogical spin. Nothing wrong with that, but they don’t speak for all or most scientists. Even your own cherry-picked statistics don’t imply a majority.

    Scientists are human and take political positions. Another politically motivated group of more than 40,000 scientists has signed a petition saying there is no proof that global warming poses a threat to the environment or that it is caused by human activity. So what? Is it science or is it politics? If it’s based on consensus, it’s not science. Science requires falsifiable hypotheses and tests.

    It’s just depressing when scientists put politics before science, while speaking as scientists.

  16. #16 caerbannog
    July 27, 2004


    Another politically motivated group of more than 40,000 scientists has signed a petition saying there is no proof that global warming poses a threat to the environment or that it is caused by human activity.

    The petition to which you are referring is sponsored by OISM.org (Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine). It is nothing more than a piece of right-wing propaganda, and not very good propaganda at that.

    So let’s take a closer look at that petition, shall we? You can find the OISM “global warming” petition at http://www.sitewave.net/pproject/listbystate.htm .

    Note that it’s just a list of names, with *no* affiliation info. For example, we have (copied and pasted directly from the petition) “… Derek Jones, Edgar J Jones, Myrtle Jones, Paul Jones, Taylor B Jones, PhD”…. Just who *are* these guys, anyway? Where do they work, and what research have they done? From the info provided in the petition, there’s just no way to find out.
    Most don’t have listed PhD’s, and if you search through the petition, you’ll find MD’s, DDS’s and even DVM’s (veterinarians)! How the hell is a dentist or hoss and dawg doctor qualified to challenge the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global-warming? I mean, if you needed root-canal/oral-surgery work, would you trust a climatologist to do it?
    *I* am fully qualified to sign that petition, and I don’t have anywhere near the qualifications or professional expertise to challenge the professional climatology community. The petition is completely bogus, and is useful only as a crude propaganda tool to sway the ignorant. Dentists and Veterinarians are *not* climate scientists.

    Now, here’s the UCS petition: http://www.ucsusa.org/RSI_list/index.php. Note that for most of the signatories, *affiliation* info is provided. So if you wanted to, you could actually track most of the signatories down and verify their qualifications (as opposed to a bunch of anonymous “XXXX Jones’s” listed in the OISM petition).

    Now, I am fully aware that the UCS is a “left-leaning” organization, and as a result I don’t take what they say as gospel. But the fact that they’ve managed to get not many fewer than 50% of all living Nobel laureates in the USA to sign on to their petition indicates that we have a problem here. And the problem is not with those Nobel laureates.

  17. #17 Walt
    July 27, 2004

    Roy, you’re right, he did get an MD. My mistake, and I admitted in my post I may be wrong (and, believe it or not, I am a fan of his fiction). But the rest of my statement holds true, and I don’t think Crichton can be held up as any kind of authority on the subject given he clearly has a distorted picture of how science operates.

    As far as funding, you’re conveniently changing the subject. No one here is arguing about that. The argument is about how Bush is distorting science through stacking advisory boards with ideologues, through silencing government scientists and rewriting government reports. Chris Mooney blogs extensively on the subject.

    And what does that mean? “If it’s based on consensus, it’s not science.” Can’t an argument form because of the strength of the science behind it? Not to you and some of the others here. “Science requires falsifiable hypotheses and tests.” Are you saying that’s not true of climate change? If so, then I think you need to do some more reading on the subject.

    Really, this whole consensus thing is just an old creationist argument spun to a new field of science. It’s a way of putting that one scientist who espouses theories fitting your political views above the hundreds of others who do not. And it’s hypocritical to say those scientists should be dismissed because they “put politics before science” when it’s the people making this argument who are doing just that.

  18. #18 Walt
    July 27, 2004

    And in a bit of covering my own butt :), I found this on the web about Crichton’s degree. I think it explains my confusion:

    “Crichton, who said he tried repeatedly to drop out of medical school, never practiced medicine, choosing a career path that led him to Hollywood instead.”

    http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/11-crichton.html

  19. #19 CDS
    July 27, 2004

    I’m amazed this discussion is still going on. Here’s my two-cents:

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that science appears to me to be almost exactly the opposite of what Michael Crichton said.

    It seems that most of the time a scientist’s job is to reach a consensus. The real business of science is to write papers, visit other scientists and give talks, get together at conferences and basically argue things out. It’s not enough to be right – you have to convince everybody that you’re right. In fact, that is the standard on which “rightness” is based. One of the things that distinguishes science from other human endeavors is that, somehow, people really do seem to agree once they’ve argued things out enough.

    In the interests of full disclosure: (1) I am a science post-doc and (2) I’ve noticed that science post-docs tend to have a more “political” view of science than tenured professors. Read into that what you will.

  20. #20 Tim the Enchanter
    July 27, 2004

    “A group of prestigious economists has already concluded that a modest greenhouse warming is on the whole beneficial and will raise standards of living. Why then allocate resources to avoid a putative warming?

    “A decade ago, ozone depletion and acid rain were all the rage; two decades ago it was “nuclear winter;” three decades ago, as global temperatures were dropping, there was great fear about a coming ice age. Throughout the past decades there have been concerns about overpopulation, imminent resource depletion and famines, poisoning of the oceans, cancer epidemics from industrial chemicals, etc., etc. It is safe to predict that most such fears will continue even when all the evidence points the other way.”

    – S. Fred Singer
    (The writer, an atmospheric physicist, is professor emeritus of environmental sciences, University of Virginia, and a former deputy assistant administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

  21. #21 caerbannog
    July 28, 2004


    A decade ago, ozone depletion and acid rain were all the rage

    Ozone-depletion and, to a lesser extent, acid rain have been ameliorated by the Montreal Protocol and Clean Air Act, respectively. These problems didn’t just magically go away on their own accord. Concerted action on the part of governments was required.


    two decades ago it was “nuclear winter”

    Sagan’s “nuclear winter” hypothesis went nowhere in the scientific community. Sagan didn’t even submit a “nuclear winter” paper to a refereed journal. ‘Nuff said.


    three decades ago, as global temperatures were dropping, there was great fear about a coming ice age.

    The notion of a “global ice-age” never gained any serious traction in the scientific community. I challenge you to prove me wrong by citing references to the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

    Singer is blowing rhetorical smoke here. The “nuclear winter” and “imminent ice-age” so-called scares may have been kicked around a bit in the popular literature (Reader’s Digest, National Enquirer, what have you), but they were *never* taken seriously by the scientific community. But if you disagree, once again I will invite you to prove me wrong by providing full bibliographic cites to the scientific literature. By scientific literature, I mean journals that are listed in the Science Citation Index.

    BTW, Tim, do you have any thoughts of your own, or are you content merely to copy/paste other people’s propaganda?

  22. #22 Walt
    July 28, 2004

    Really Tim, I think you can come up with better people to quote. Singer hasn’t done much publishing in peer-reviewed literature in the last 20 years, even though he keeps refering to himself as an expert in the field he criticizes. And he has recieved consulting fees from oil companies, and has been on the record denying it.

    Lets just stick to the argument instead of quoting self-proclaimed skeptics.

  23. #23 Vicious Rabbit
    August 1, 2004

    Jeez, Walt, do you ever do anything besides ad hominem? No actual ideas, but you like the role of enforcer of conventional wisdom? “Better people to quote?” Science is about ideas, facts, and proof, not appeals to authority. No comment on the ideas themselves?

    It’s clear that academics and would-be intellectuals live in a liberal echo chamber. Caerbannog thinks there is no more argument on global warming, that consensus has settled it. You seem to think that shouting down dissent from the orthodoxy with ad hominem attacks is the morally correct tactic.

    Here’s an anonymous quote, maybe to force your focus on the idea, not the writer: Your comments “reflect a disturbing willingness to enforce an orthodoxy on dissenters and indicate a moral atmosphere that might best be described as ‘soft totalitarianism’—even when, or particularly when, the orthodoxy is a minority opinion and the majority has invariably rejected any clear expression of it.”

  24. #24 Walt
    August 2, 2004

    This discussion started so long ago I nearly forgot how it began.

    Anyway, Vicious Rabbit (cool name, by the way), anytime you guys quote an authority, I’m going to point out problems with that person being used as such, if there are any. The question is: Given their backgrounds, are these people really authorities on the subject? (especially in Springer’s case, when he makes false statements about ozone, nuclear winter, acid rain and the Ice Age). And remember, it’s your side trying to use them as a trump card for your arguments.

    In reality, all you’re doing is avoiding the argument, which is as Brent started out, “if you don’t agree with the current orthodoxy, decided as much based on (liberal) politics as actual science, you won’t get published let alone be stamped with the label ‘scientific.’”

    I’ve answered in other posts, and so has Caerbannog in more elegance, so I put to you: Where is the “proof” behind this statement? Why should I believe that scientists are so biased, that the process of peer-review publication is so corrupt, that I shouldn’t believe the consensus opinion of any given field? I believe those opinions are the result of “ideas, facts, and proof” tested through the openess of the scientific process — why am I wrong?

    The truth is I think that despite your appeal, anyone using the consensus argument cares little about science. They care about politics. Science is convienent when it backs up their beliefs, but when it doesn’t it’s “junk science,” and when that science is supported by a majority of experts, then it’s “orthodoxy” to be dismissed, regardless the process used to reach it. It’s a great argument to legitimize any lone gun who runs counter to the prevailing consensus — he (or she) is using science! — but its users are lacking the one thing they claim to hold so dear: “proof” that one person is right while so many others are wrong.

    (That quote, by the way, is from John O’Sullivan concerning racism charges against Sum Huntington. I did that Google thing like someone told me to. It’s a bit ironic your using it against me for pointing out the motivations behind Crichton’s and Singer’s comments when your whole argument is that scientific consensus can’t be trusted because scientists are motivated by liberal ideology.)

  25. #25 Ed Snack
    August 18, 2004

    Walt, do you ever read what you cite ? Scientific American’s attack on Lomborg contains almost no facts at all, please read and post what facts they actually challenge, that is, successfully challenge. He was attacked on the grounds of selectively using evidence, which has to be an enormous joke as his opponents selectively cherrypick the evidence to use against him. Try reading Lomborg’s web-site as well to see what corrections he has posted.

  26. #26 Brien O'Robertson
    August 20, 2004

    Two campers stumble across a quiet prairie in the middle of the forest, with a few old buildings, and neglected roads. Spooky.
    Walking down the deserted main street, they see an old haggard man in a rocking chair. After hesitating, one asks the old man, “What is this place?”
    The old man spits out some tabaccy and says “Well boys, this used to be one of the grandest towns on this here frontier. It was called The Loom. New things were built all the time, lots of smart people were around. It was a bustling, heady time. That was a long time ago, I reckon.”

  27. #27 Walt
    August 21, 2004

    Ed, you’re right. I didn’t read any of the Sci Am report. I just made it up. I didn’t read any of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” either. Not one page. ;)

    Anyway, that’s a pretty broad claim you make: “Scientific American’s attack on Lomborg contains almost no facts at all, please read and post what facts they actually challenge, that is, successfully challenge.”

    Kind of hard for me respond since you don’t cite any examples, don’t you think? I thought they made some valid points about his misuse of species extinction data, forest cover, and rosy picture of climate change projections. But you say they contain “almost no facts at all.” Really? What exactly are these non-facts?

    Yeah, I’m going to wimp out on your challenge. This is getting away from our central discussion, which I spelled out in my last post. Maybe I’m just as guilty of it for jumping in on Lomborg — I won’t play innocent. But the burden of proof is still on you guys talking about scientific “orthodoxy” and whatnot. All I’m asking is for a little evidence about why I should believe there is this liberal bias distorting scientific consensus. Com’on guys, it’s been 27 posts now: where is it?

  28. #28 Wetware1
    August 30, 2004

    The brief argument over Crichton’s dismissal of scientific consensus interests me. We often confuse technical education with understanding of how research is done, which is why we often find people who are very intelligent and technically educated but who have a rather unrealistic impression of what research scientists do.

    The uneasy truth, I think, is that few if any of us directly validates through experimentation (or even by reading primary sources) the theories we take as scientific. And even if we do basic research ourselves, we rely on what others claim to have done and validated.

    We all rely on authority sources of some sort, and make assumptions about what sources are reliable. Most of us probably agree on some guidelines for scholarship and verification of evidence, but we almost certainly also divide severely at some points as to which authority sources can be trusted as even raw data on important matters.

    It seems to me that it reveals a critical division in the way people envision science, and one that polarizes people, (perhaps avoidably?)

    So it seems to me that Crichton is surely right when he says that claims to scientific consensus tend to be power plays more than they are themselves contributions to science. On issues that matter to us we find it nearly impossible to avoid trying to lend the imprimateur of science to issues whose resolution is essentially moral or political rather than directly technical (though it may make use of scientific data).

    But then Crichton is almost surely wrong when he says that there is no such thing as scientific consensus, at least if one interprets that to mean that there is no role for a consensus building process, and no true and legitimate orthodoxy involved in science. The orthodoxy changes, but it is very conservative and serves its purpose for a long time before its cracks begin to show and it is superceded by something that explains more things.

    The consensus is defined through the gradual and provisional assent of publication processes culminating in a kind of textbook orthodoxy. It is used to build upon, for educational and research purposes, rather than as an alternative form of scripture, and it is a commonplace that textbooks can be and are continually improved.

    It seems to me that it is simply inaccurate and wrong-headed to equate the very specific kind of provisional orthodoxy of science with other forms of orthodoxy, or to paint a picture of scientific theories as being individual interpretations of data by researchers with no general consensus. The consensus is not the final word, but it is the best guess at a given point.

    The key, I think, is to recognize that scientific growth *does* neccessarily leverage its own orthodoxy for various reasons (and obviously that modern sciences are not the only traditions that can be seen in this light), but that it is also always an essential core value that theories are testable and provisional, even though they are treated as part of an orthodoxy.

    That is, not all orthodoxies are equivalent, and we cannot avoid some form of stable knowledge base if we are doing useful education and research. Unavoidably, science involves a social process including consensus building as well as consensus overturning.

    As for the environmentalist argument, the well has effectively been poisoned (so to speak) for the most part by the mutual discrediting of sources on all sides. Unfortunately we are likely all going to be losers as a result of being unable to find truly reliable sources in that area. We rely on science as our headlights, and these have been deliberately misaligned differently on each side. It’s not particularly easy to see what’s straight ahead anymore.