Another Example of How “The War on Science” Causes More Harm Than Good

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.

By trying to yoke all support of science to the battle in the culture war over evolution, Waldman is embracing a political strategy of making one party the “science” party, and conducting a politicization of science that he would probably criticize others for doing.  This is bad politics (some of the best recent champions of science and science funding in Congress have been Republicans) and horrible policy.  Scientific issues do not map neatly along party lines, or even ideological lines.  By trying to force science on one party and away from another, Waldman, Mooney and their fellow travelers are asking to have two big challenges in getting the attention of policymakers for scientific issues, when there is currently just one.  By having science take a political side, they would add the problem of making sure that side is in power to the problem of making sure science is a sufficiently high priority to get results.  Mr. Waldman, don’t make it harder for science.  Drop the political posturing.


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