Obama, Gearing Up for a Full-Fledged Democratic War on Science, Liberates Stem Cell Research

So, I have to say I find this funny.

On the one hand we have the current, perverse attempt to forecast all the ways in which Democrats and scientists are going to fall into big conflicts soon, now that the Dems have so much power. The idea here is to construct a false equivalence between the egregious abuses of the Bush administration and a few potential conflicts of a very different nature that could maybe happen sometime in the future under this administration.

Meanwhile, we have Obama about to stand up and, you know, liberate embryonic stem cell research. Jeez, Mr. President, didn't you get the memo? You're supposed to start throwing your weight around and pissing scientists off! And yet here you are giving them one thing they've wanted more than almost anything else for nearly a decade.

Sheesh. Just let us know when you're ready for the real war on science to start already. There are a lot of journalists out there who have already written their stories and are just waiting to run them.

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The big problem for Republicans is that, as Jay Rosen puts it, "their base isn't reality based". Rosen has a running shtick on his twitter account, where he'll point to a particular journalists story or blog, summarize what the reporter has to say, then say "you could say that, or you could say their base isn't reality based."

For example: http://twitter.com/jayrosen_nyu/status/1274029348

By Jon Winsor (not verified) on 07 Mar 2009 #permalink

So who's keeping score?

It's all well and good [1] for Jon Stewart to put up side-by-side hypocrisy for us to see, but it's still transitory.

What we need is a central resource for all of these "the first thing the Obama Administration will do is confiscate all of our guns" [2] predictions.

[1] You have no idea how long I've been waiting for someone, anyone, to simply put up politicians condemning themselves out of their own mouths. For some reason that particular tactic has been off-limits for decades.
[2] Really. Apparently one of the "energize the base [3]" stories making the rounds late last year.
[3] Read, "contributors."

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 07 Mar 2009 #permalink

I guess you should have expected it. Once you discover a successful frame, like 'war on science', others will want to co-opt it.

Scientists don't expect to get everything they want, or for the government to do everything scientists think is best. That's never been true, regardless of the distribution of power. That's also why it took a good 20 years or so from Reagan launching the Republican War on Science for scientists to realize that there was something special and partisan in what was happening. It then took two WBush terms for scientists to start to assemble anything resembling action.

Through this, the scientists I know who are most ticked off have been the self-described conservatives and registered Republicans. They had thought that conservatives and Republicans were supposed to be the most reality-based (hard-headed) group, not like those fuzzy-thinking pie in the sky liberals and Democrats. It's really annoyed them to see that it is, for 30 years now, the Republicans who are consistently lying about reality (as investigated by science), and basing policy on what their wishful thinking and pie in the sky hopes say instead.

The key difference, for them, between the two parties being that as regards science, the Democrats have been by far the more reality-based. Since these scientists are Republicans, they often disagree with the decisions Democrats make from that information. But after the recent history, they're realizing that being reality-based is more important than the sort of conclusions you're going to prefer to make. You can have meaningful discussion with someone who is reality-based, including changing their mind about what to do with that information.

It's interesting to read some of the moderate and ex- movement conservatives these days. This is Sam Tanenhaus in TNR:

The story of postwar American conservatism is best understood as a continual replay of a single long-standing debate. On one side are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, the restoration of America's pre-welfare state ancien regime. And, time and again, the counterrevolutionaries have won. The result is that modern American conservatism has dedicated itself not to fortifying and replenishing civil society but rather to weakening it through a politics of civil warfare.

How did this happen? One reason is that the most intellectually sophisticated founders of postwar conservatism were in many instances ex-Marxists, who moved from left to right but remained persuaded that they were living in revolutionary times and so retained their absolutist fervor. In place of the Marxist dialectic they formulated a Manichaean politics of good and evil, still with us today, and their strategy was to build a movement based on organizing cultural antagonisms. Many have observed that movement politics most clearly defines itself not by what it yearns to conserve but by what it longs to destroy--"statist" social programs; "socialized medicine"; "big labor"; "activist" Supreme Court justices, the "media elite"; "tenured radicals" on university faculties; "experts" in and out of government.

(I added the emphasis.)

It seems like a small number of moderates, like David Frum, have been agreeing with this in a careful and qualified way.

And it has driven ex-conservatives like Michael Lind completely out of the party.

By Jon Winsor (not verified) on 08 Mar 2009 #permalink

Chris --

Do I take your comments to mean that the stem cell policy itself -- and not simply the way the Bush Administration sought to defend the policy -- was part of the GOP "War on Science"? If so, this seems to be a change from what you claimed when defending your book in our little debate.

More broadly, if the imposition of contested ethical limitations on scientific research is evidence of a "war on science," what should we make of President Obama's attack on cloning and failure to call for overturning the Dickey-Wicker amendment?


By Jonathan H. Adler (not verified) on 09 Mar 2009 #permalink

Wow. I had put off following the link before, but it boggles the mind. One of my favorite parts has to be about the totally misguided recruitment of women into science. Damn feminists. Don't they know that with women involved, there will never be any competition or intellectual advancement?

No, I would say the distinction you're referring to, the distinction between science and policy, remains, and we both understand it.

Nevertheless, overturning the stem cell restrictions has been very popular with scientists, for obvious reasons.

Chris --

Okay. So what's the point of repeatedly raising the "war on science" meme in connection with this policy change if not to suggest that the Bush policy was part of the "war on science"? I think you are trying to have it both ways.


By Jonathan H. Adler (not verified) on 10 Mar 2009 #permalink