For the latest evidence of why advancing the notion of a war on science – especially a partisan one – is at best problematic, please see this Intersection post from yesterday. In it, Chris Mooney manages to muster just a mild fulmination at some efforts to construct a notion of a ‘war on science’ from the left based on opponents of vaccines, especially those who are convinced (findings of fraud to the contrary) that there’s a link between the vaccines and autism (this is kind of old news, but I suspect that’s beside the point to both sides).
In an infrequent acknowledgment that some folks that aren’t Republican have engaged in science denialism and/or a ‘war on science,’ Mooney goes on to re-assert that it does nothing to undercut his main argument from the book – that it was more extensive and a bigger problem on the right.
To which I offer the following – why is that the thing to fight over?
Is the most important problem in this area who was more intent on politicizing and/or abusing science in policy decisions? Or is the bigger deal the presence of the politicization and/or abuse in the first place? Regular readers should know by now I think it’s the latter, and those seriously interested in minimizing and mitigating manipulation of scientific evidence and of scientists should focus on that rather than get distracted in fights over the former; fights that are rarely more than political proxy fights that add to the politicization problem that opponents of the ‘war on science’ are supposedly fighting.
By doubling down on the partisan angle, Mooney’s idea has become wildly successful in a relatively narrow sense – it mobilized a lot of folks to a particular party because it sure seemed like the other one wasn’t interested. The problem with this strategy is that it presumes that your selected allies are going to be interested in science to the level that you want, for all issues. Mooney’s latest post suggests that’s a big presumption.
By doubling down on the partisan angle, Mooney reduces the debate in many circles to a different version of the left-right squabbles that keep parts of the blogosphere hopping and the cable opinion channels full of content. If Mooney had focused on a ‘war on science’ rather than a ‘*Republican* war on science,’ would so many be seeking to find a Democratic equivalent? Would so many (like Mooney) dismiss abuses or the appearance of abuses from a non-Republican? It suggests that they aren’t concerned about the politicization of science if it’s from an ally. It suggests that they think the appearance of a problem isn’t itself a problem, because the other side ‘actually did’ bad stuff, not just made it look like that happened.
I get it. He’s defending his book. But by responding to arguments about abuses of science or science denialism by saying others did it worse, it resembles the two biggest U.S. opinion channels talking past each other, when the bigger problem (at least to some) is what they focus on talking about.