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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Republican War on Science

Posted by on September 13 at 14:44 PM

Tonight I will interview journalist Chris Mooney about his new and important book, The Republican War on Science. The event will take place at the Town Hall (1119 Eighth Ave) and start at 7:30 pm. I may or may not read this introduction, which I composed this morning to organize my waking thoughts:


The recent resignation of FEMA’s head Michael Brown, due to the full-blown exposure of his inexperience and gross incompetence, was a significant event for two immediately apparent reasons. One, for the first time in five years, Karl Rove could not save one of the president’s guilty men. No genius, now matter what size or how evil, could spin the human (or social) element out of this huge natural disaster. Second, it is (if the reports on Michael Brown’s replacement are correctBush is selecting a man with actual experience in emergency management) the turning point (the first reversal) of a seemingly relentless trend that began its career in the early ’70s and was accelerated by the present administration: the politicization of every part, every organ of America’s governing body.

All public agencies have been hit hard by this process, which places party and class orientation far above actual skill and experience.
As Paul Krugman wrote yesterday in the New York Times: "The lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina revealed to everyone that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which earned universal praise during the Clinton years, is a shell of its former self. The hapless Michael Brown... has become a symbol of cronyism. But what we really should be asking is whether FEMA's decline and fall is unique, or part of a larger pattern. What other government functions have been crippled by politicization, cronyism and/or the departure of experienced professionals? How many FEMAs are there? Unfortunately, it's easy to find other agencies suffering from some version of the FEMA syndrome.
"The first example won't surprise you: the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a key role to play in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but which has seen a major exodus of experienced officials over the past few years. In particular, senior officials have left in protest over what they say is the Bush administration's unwillingness to enforce environmental law.”
The concerns expressed by Krugman constitute the substance of Chris Mooney's book The Republican War on Science, which focuses on an area of knowledge (or expertise) that has, arguably, been hit hardest by the wide and deepening politicization of social administration (or civil service): the natural sciences. Though every aspect of life is to some extent political (including the way science is produced and its findings are distributed), over the past five years, however, the political extent of the sciences, the arts, the religious has been extended to the point of being the ruling determination in public policy decisions. Under the Bush administration, generally accepted scientific truths, particularly in the area of climate science and sciences directly or indirectly connected with human reproduction, have suffered horribly. Mooney's book clearly describes the evolution of this thriving and, as we have seen in New Orleans, deadly system of abuse--abusing science, abusing historical facts, abusing our most important tools for decoding and determining the structures of reality. And all for the purpose of promoting the limited values of religious extremists and increasing the profits of corporations/industries that refuse to adapt to the environmental challenges of our day.
Before I introduce my guest, I want to finally point out that we must not separate this administration's concerted attack on scientific knowledge with its equally concerted attack on professional intelligence gathering. Both are related and part of a system of thinking that operates outside of any established (or broadly shared) reality. In the world that Bush has imposed on our reality, a horse judge can become the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; or a dictator in Iraq can find lots of cheap uranium in the heart of Africa.