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January 02, 2006

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The rest of the industrial west looks at the US and ID and wonders, again, if we have lost our collective minds. Fer cryin' out loud, the Catholic Church said over a hundred years ago that there is no conflict between evolution and the biblical creation stories (the fundies always forget that there is more than one of these.)

At the beginning of the 21st century, we are supposed to be moving into the post-modern period (and there are good reasons for this) but that's going to be a little tough when 60% of the population hasn't even met modernity yet.

Excellent choice! I think this is also a good tact to follow strategy wise. Scientists tend to shy away from politics and they're generally engrossed in time counsuming research anyway. But this issue is one they can get their teeth into and I don't see any downside in terms of votes. If someone is hard-core fundie odds are they're in the GOP camp to stay. Bt there are plenty of conservative leaning independnents and apathetic folks who are motivated are interested in science and despite the right prattling on about a 'mandate' really, we only need like a couple of percent in two or three key states to turn the tide in our favor.

a local example of where science takes us:

In New York, Power of DNA Spurs Call to Abolish Statute of Limitations for Rape

Perhaps a return to the Inquisition would be preferred?

DarkSayde, just check this for confirmation. Stem cell research is a winner. But look at the beginning of the link re polling on the Origins of Life. The concepts are compatable (stem cell research and belief in God). Only Republicans say it's not.

I have a signed copy of the book. I haven't had time to read it, though, so this is an absolutely useless comment.

Cool!

My kids have read it, too. One thought it was a bit polemical but both thought it was true, as seen though non-science high school/college eyes.

One doesn't have to have read the book to 'get' the concept of what's going on here. it's ripped right off the friont page.

Oh I agree Dem. ESCR is a winner hands down. In fact, every mainstream reproductive issue I know of polls substantially in favor of progressives, including abortion. I don't see that we have anything to lose and it seems we could probably win over a few soccer moms with that kind of thing. If there's one thing baby boomer gals hate it's the idea of a bunch of wrinkled old WASP males making decisions about their bodies.

Mooney was on Book TV a few months ago and you can still catch it from time to time. He's a personable and effective public speaker (Plus he's dreamy oh so dreamy ...). Gina at YK may be talking to him about speaking at the convention next summer. I think that would be a good idea.

When I read the book, I was reminded of David Brock's book on the Republican noise machine. The Right sets up its own shadow institutions (think tanks, advocacy groups etc.) that spew out disinformation that the meida reports in the interest in balance. Excuse me, but the concern for "balance and fairness" does not produce good science or science reporting. Of course their are different conclusions of data, but ultimately research should determine which explanations make the most sense. (or which paradigms hold up.)

The creation of these shadow institutions are part of a strategy to undermine and destroy the institutions needed a complex society make informed decisions. Thus, it's no accident that Mooney starts with a quote from Steven Pinker "The success of science depends on an apparatus of democratic adjudication..."

Though I might be exagerating, I really believe that the attack on science is paradigmatic of a larger attempt to undermine our democratic institutions.

certainly it's an attack on reality-based ones.

Scientists tend to shy away from politics and they're generally engrossed in time counsuming research anyway.

So obviously I've been thinking about this point. And the main question that comes to me is,

"Why do scientists shy away from politics?"

It's partly time constraints but it goes beyond that. There is an antipathy to bringing politics, religion, or other personal belief issues into the lab equivalent of water-cooler conversation. It's not universal, but it's prevalent, at least where I've worked (and I feel it personally -- part of why I keep relatively anonymous online stems from not wanting my politics to be associated with my professional life). But there's more there that I can't figure out -- why do I feel, well, shy about discussing politics much in professional environments? And is this science-specific or does everyone have a bit of this?

but I think that question may be secondary to questioning the assumption inherent in the statement:

"Would it help if more scientists were active politically?"

Seriously, would it? How much? And why would it? One example: there is a panel discussion every year at the american society for cell biology meeting called something like "Congress 101, how to talk to your congressional representatives about science" and geared as a training ground for getting scientists to engage politicians. And the basic lesson is that you link everything to human disease. Like, "My name is ___ I work at ___ university and I am working on ____ disease which afflicts ____ Americans each year." When that is just not how science works -- most of us are not working directly on disease, and many advances in disease treatment come from unexpected directions. So the usefulness of engaging scientists in politics seems to be primarily to distort the public perception of science to lobby for more money or political support! Does it really help to have a scientist do that, or couldn't a trained lobbyist/activist do a better job? What does a PhD in science bring to science advocacy anyway?

And, I guess, to try to bring this comment back to on-topic-ness.... "does Mooney address the role of scientists in science advocacy in his book?"

see the interview in this link and the question I asked Mooney:

DemFromCt: How have you been received in the science community... Polemicist, muckraker, pamphleteer, champion, etc.?

CM: I'm happy to say that a lot of scientists have welcomed my work. I think one reason the book has gotten so much attention right now is that scientists are very worried at the moment. They're disturbed by the way the Bush administration treats science; and at the same time, they're watching anti-evolutionism sweeping the country at the state level. Sometimes it seems like the values of the Enlightenment itself are in jeopardy.

My hope is that my book will help mobilize scientists--and their defenders--to fight back against political misuses of science, and to do a better job of explaining the knowledge that we have to the public. When you think about it, it's truly amazing how much we know--how much we've learned from science. But now we've got to solve the problem of translating that knowledge for the rest of society--politicians most of all.


DemFromCT, for example, remember the conversation a few months ago when you told me not to try to distingush adult stem cell & embryonic stem cell research for advocacy purposes? It seems like often the road to swaying public opinion is not the one scientists hold the map to.

(I am taking a devil's advocate position here, I appreciate intuitively it is not right but am trying to figure out WHY.)

Chris's book and author talk will be on BookTV tonight at 8:30 EST. That's C-Span 2 on weekends.

Emptypockets has part of the answer to why scientists stay away from politics: it really doesn't come up much around the lab or office, and when it does, I find that most of us are on the same side. It just doesn't inspire much argument.

But I think another part of it is that we're actively dissuaded throughout our life from participating. Most of us were the nerds in school -- we were wrapped up in our books. In our culture, intellectualism is not a path to popularity, and more often than not makes you the butt of disparagement. Many of us are not hooked into the social networks that are a critical part of political involvement: churches and civic organizations.

Try to take a public stand on political issues, and scientists are usually immediately scorned as godless pinko eggheads. It's not the kind of situation that encourages continued interaction. People might like the idea of science as an abstraction, but scientists themselves are rarely popular.


And to keep this on topic, here's my review of Mooney's book from last August.

Thanks, Melanie! and 'pockets, KISs is always true in politics.

Pharyngula.org (PZ Myers) is a top notch site, btw, for those unfamiliar with it. Check it out. It's a regular read.

Hello All,

I want to thank all of you for your interest in my book, and to thank DemFromCT for fostering this discussion. There's much that might be said in response to the comments so far, but I'd just like to contribute the following. Due in large part to the dramatic (and largely positive) reaction that The Republican War on Science has generated, I've decided to explore more extensively how scientists can work to counteract political abuses and distortions of scientific information. The final chapter of the book had already discussed political reforms that are needed to restore scientific integrity--i.e., restore science advice to Congress--and these are important things. But at present I'm more interested in how to promote effective scientist activism.

Part of the picture will necessarily involve improved public communication skills on the part of scientists (I have an article about this coming out soon in Seed magazine). And part of it will involve a willingness to actually get political (hence the discussions we've been having recently about whether a Science PAC ought to be formed; see here: http://securingamerica.com/ccn/node/2918). I'm not yet at the point where I'm advocating specific communication or political strategies, however. At the moment, I'm just interested in identifying models that might actually work.

To that end, your suggestions are most welcome--and thanks again for your interest in the book. I hope everyone had a great and memorable New Years celebration....
Chris Mooney

We've had a number of comments that point at something that is not directly related to politics: the scientific literacy of the US population. Clearly, our scientific literacy has huge implications for political decisions about issues such as stem cells, teaching evolution, etc. I suspect a lot of us, myself included, don't think about the connection between science, as something done by serious people in white lab coats, and their ordinary lives. One thing that should happen, ideally, is that someone makes these connections explicit. I am concerned about environmental issues and try to make my concerns clear by saying "Every time I open the window or turn the faucet, the environment comes in."

I realize this isn't a complete answer to Emptypockets' questions, but it seems to me that raising our awareness of science could well be a necessary compliment to lobbying or a science PAC.

Kdm makes an excellent point: one of the reasons why the Republicans have been so successful at politicizing bad science is that our science education sucks in this country, to the extent that students avail themselves of it at all. Admittedly, we were doing sums on pieces of bark with charcoal when I was in public school, but our science education was good enough for me to test out of the first couple of sequences of life sciences in college. Except for schools with excellent AP, honors or IB programs, I doubt that is the case any longer. Our math education is even worse. In both disciplines there are shortages of qualified teachers.

it's the teaching at the high school level (and before) that is most imperiled by this administration's approach. That's why ID discussions are so insidious. part of the plan is to intimidate local school systems into giving 'equal time' for a completely bogus program.

BTW, Dem, what's the next book?

PZ & Chris, another small aspect is the large number of scientists in the US who are from other countries -- I think they feel that since they can't vote here, they can't (or don't want to) engage US politics in a public way (I'm not sure they'd be welcome to anyway).

My personal experience has been that when I begin to get engaged I am told I'm doing it wrong. I almost certainly am doing it wrong, and the critic is well-intentioned, but I like doing things my own way and my first reaction is, ok, screw this, I'm going back to lab. That cycle repeats a few times per year, with minor variations.

While I have all of you here (heh), there is a project that directly relates to opening a scientist-citizen dialog that I am getting closer (I think) to making happen. If your email is not linked to your name on this page please click mine to send me a note so I can seek your thoughts when the project gets a bit further along.

I would love to hear more about a PAC for science. I and my partner would be willing to brainstorm, evaluate the effectiveness of a PAC and contribute our expertise to a PAC on a volunteer basis. Chris Mooney's post reprinted on http://securingamerica.com/ccn/node/2918 called for volunteers. Please include me in such discussions.

thanks!

The irony of the age is that rationalism has given us such a surplus lifestyle that most of us can get by without benefit of rationality.

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, you mastered as much science and logic as you could (or figured out who to ask if you couldn't) if you wanted to engage in most any practical pursuit ... farming, for instance.

These days, most of us can grow up as untutored as turnips, and the system will still work well enough to feed, clothe and house us. We are free to engage in purely subjective fantasy on all manner of topics, and live lives largely divorced of direct consequence for errors of inference ... and post our unhinged natterings on the internets for all to share!

This is a dangerous breeding ground

I remember a very good scientist and science writer (as well as great classics of science-fiction), Isaac Asimov, who observed over 40 years ago that a 12th century peasant tilling his field in the shadow of the Cathedral of Chartes had a better understanding of how the world works than the average mid-20th century American. Personally, I think it's gone downhill from there. I had the good fortune 41 years ago this month to be part of the US Navy support of a National Academy of Sciences expedition to the Galapagos (the first since Darwin and the Beagle), to review Darwin's findings. It was great having scientists to answer our questions about what we were doing, and I actually saw an example of each of the famous finches. Even nowadays, as a liberal writer who lucked into going to college when lower division requirements were "in flux" (meaning that this mathematical illiterate didn't have to take any of them), I find myself seemingly far more "scientifically literate" than the vast majority of those of my fellow Americans who I know personally. It is this scientific illiteracy that allows the Republicans to get away with their scams (that and the political illiteracy that lets them get elected in the first place).

Please forgive if this is off-topic, but you mention the "anti-vaccine lobby" on the left. I'm not entirely sure what you're referring to, but if you mean the rise in incidence of autism that coincides with the addition of mercury as a preservative in vaccines, I think that is not anti-science at all, nor is it anti-vaccine. They are pro-vaccine, as they all vaccinated their children only to find out later that there is a possible link between the mercury used to preserve the vaccines and the high number of vaccines children are given today. While each vaccine does not contain enough mercury to lead to the possible onset of autism in children who are susceptible to mercury-induced autism, the sum-total of all the vaccines could possibly lead to mercury-related autism.

They simply want answers in the face of a stonewalling FDA. They don't want to stop getting their children vaccinated but quite the opposite: they want to vaccinate their children in the most safe possible manner.

Maybe you are referring to something else and I am getting them confused, but I thought I would mention this. I do not myself sense any anti-science agenda in the people who are calling for investigations into the possible link between mercury preservatives in vaccines and the rising rates of autism.

Love,

Hanna

My brother is a scientist (earth sciences), working in government on the county level. His job is to act as an objective arbiter between entities (that is, money) competing for limited resources. To research and present the scientific case for or against one or another proposal. So although he is politically liberal, his job is to remain neutral.

So the "war on science" is, ultimately, an assault on that political neutrality. I'm not quite sure what that means for the discussion here, in terms of scientists getting more politically involved, but I offer it up as grist for the mill.

Neutral would be acceptible, rasmus. Objective would be acceptible. Bush policy is neither. You can't support ID and oppose stem cell research and claim either.

Hanna, there's a very vocal anti-vaccine lobby that has little or nothing to do with autism and thimerosal in vaccines. Thimerosal, while likely not an issue and not associated with autism (the studies are very clear... eliminating thimerosal in Scandanavia is associated with increased autism incidence, e.g. - there have been major recent reviews on this) is being eliminated from pediatric vaccines, which seems sensible. But I really don't want to get off track on thimerosal, which will engender days of discussion.

I'm one of those Americans who is pretty scientifically illiterate (have a partner who is better educated and she gets asked to clarify many fishy smelling questions for me) -- so I want to ask a political question. Are there contradictions between businesses/corporations whose corruption of science is motivated by keeping up profits and the religious right who are essentially flat-earthers? It would seem to me that these two camps would have slightly different interests and I am interested in where there is any friction between them. That intersection should be a good place for a counterattack.

janinsanfran - Missouri. There, the religious right and business interests are feuding over stem cell research (supported by business). Click the TNH science link, and look for Missouri stories.

Great book choice, DemFromCT. I've just finished reading my copy and think it should be required reading for anyone who wonders what are the consequences of having ideologues make decisions based on magical thinking. I remember that I first really got worried about Bush's administration when I realized that he was so removed from reality (before he started this awful war). The number of problems we humans face cannot be solved with magical thinking and, indeed, the consequences of letting people divorced from understanding reality (and empirical data) decide what to do is like having a blind man drive a runaway car heading for a cliff. Every problem we have (global warming, dwindling energy resources, population pressures, etc) will be much worse if we don't figure out how to get our government and policy out of the hands of ideologues.

The distain for scientific process and reality is frankly one of the most frightening things about this administration, in my opinion and it shows the radicalism of the rightwing philosophy. I think Chris' book is so well researched and resourced that he should be able to help most moderates understand the severity of the problem.

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