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The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney

- Abstract

Ever since John Stuart Mill identified Britain’s Conservatives as “the stupid party,” it has been fashionable for leftists to deride their political opponents as anti-intellectual, backward-thinking clods. The trope has figured prominently in recent American presidential politics, with candidates of the Democratic party posing, sometimes ostentatiously, as defenders of reason and all things scientific. Al Gore, known in some circles as the inventor of the Internet, preached tirelessly that the Republican refusal to combat climate change would soon result in global catastrophe. In 2004, John Edwards implied that paraplegics would soon be able to walk again—if not for George W. Bush’s benighted policies on stem-cell research. Unfortunately for Gore and Edwards, these admonitions did not impress the electorate. Chris Mooney is not about to give up the fight. A correspondent for the left-liberal American Prospect and for Seed magazine, which covers the role of science in culture, Mooney has long been interested in the intersection of technology and politics. But he is no neutral sociologist of science; he is a political journalist, and a frankly partisan one at that. In The Republican War on Science, he makes the case that conservatives in general, and President Bush in particular, have adopted an attitude toward science that is not merely skeptical but actually hostile. As a result, he argues, the government is becoming estranged from the scientific establishment, and is rapidly depleting its capacity to make decisions based on the best available knowledge.

How did this come about? The first several chapters of Mooney’s book are intended to provide some historical perspective. One early turning point, as Mooney tells it, came during the presidential campaign of 1964, which pitted Barry Goldwater and his zealous young followers against scientists concerned about the arms race with the Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear war. Then, in the 1970’s, new conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation began to supply business-friendly research and expertise, supposedly at odds with the scientific mainstream—thereby setting the stage for the “politicization” of science. This trend accelerated under the Reagan administration, which Mooney accuses of marginalizing and manipulating scientific advisers, ignoring the crises of AIDS and acid rain, promoting creationism, and recklessly pushing for missile defense despite a “consensus” that it was unworkable.

About the Author

Kevin Shapiro is a research fellow in neuroscience and a student at Harvard Medical School.