In the current issue of Nature is an editorial (likely to disappear behind a pay wall at some point) highly critical of Canadian science policy (H/T Don’t Leave Canada Behind). It focuses particularly on government policy, which is consistent with the various complaints I heard at the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) late last year. While researchers in every country likely complain about a lack of funds, in Canada there is a dearth of institutions, processes, and organizations (new or mature) to help plan, implement and analyze science policy. These problems (well demonstrated by the examples of the Chalk River nuclear reactor and the lack of a national polar policy) have persisted regardless of the political stripe of the Prime Minister and the Parliament.
While the recommendation to the Canadian government that they appoint a single person accountable for science makes sense, I think Nature‘s chiding of Canadian researchers to become better organized and informed about science politics and policy is the message that needs more attention. This was one of the significant takeaways for me from CSPC.
While I don’t think the organization formerly known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science is as effective in organizing science policy advocacy as Nature thinks it is, there are certainly plenty of organizations in the U.S. to connect scientists with policymakers and make their interests known. This is as true for resource appeals as it is for advising on policy, its just that the former gets a lot more attention than the latter.
For those just joining us, I think the “war on science” meme stinks, and way too many people listen to Chris Mooney as a result. As I wrote last July:
“I’ve never been a fan of how the notion of a “war on science” has been used, abused, folded, spindled and mutilated in the service of political rabble rousing and selling polemical books.
“So this war somehow involves fighting those that would distort or suppress scientific evidence, as well as those who don’t care about science and technology or understand it as much as those in the field? Sounds like both military and civilian targets are fair game in this war. To me, only the issues with suppression and distortion rise to the level of a conflict – a conflict not only with science, but with good government as well.”
While Mooney may have initially had a specific, narrow meaning for what the “war on science” was supposed to mean, that meaning has expanded to meaninglessness. It’s also been used to hide a multitude of sins, some of which are Mooney’s.
The latest sin is this lazy piece from Paul Waldman at The American Prospect, the magazine that unfortunately helped Mooney unleash this unwieldy, uncoordinated mess on the rest of us. Waldman uses the “war on science” meme to package a tired old list of arguments about the U.S. and its limited acceptance of evolution as equivalent to quashing the advancement of science. It’s a list of facts rather than an argument, an attempt to extrapolate opposition to all science from non-scientific rejection of a significant theory. Is the country’s resistance to evolution a problem? I think so. Does this mean that all Republicans will oppose all science? Not in the least.