News / 

Author says GOP is waging war on scientific inquiry

Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

It sounds a bit alarmist and extreme, but when you tally up everything going on perhaps a book titled "Republican War on Science" isn't so far-fetched.

"Officials on all sides of the political spectrum play games with scientific information," said journalist Chris Mooney, but the Bush administration and current GOP's gamesmanship in this arena today is "uniquely bad."

From challenging evidence on climate change, advocating that schools teach religious alternatives to evolution, enacting prohibitions on stem cell research and undermining proven AIDS prevention programs, Mooney contends the Republican agenda is much more than just tinkering.

"This amounts to an assault on the fundamental nature of scientific inquiry," he said.

Mooney, a Washington, D.C., writer for the popular science magazine Seed who specializes in reporting on the intersection of politics and science, will speak tonight at 7:30 p.m. on his book, "The Republican War on Science," at Seattle's Town Hall.

He acknowledges that the title sounds, well, sort of partisan.

But Mooney thinks the media largely have failed to identify that these issues are not simply debates between people with equally valid competing theories. He says this is a partisan attack on science.

It's easy to understand why a particular group might attack this or that scientific claim. But how believable is it that this is an attack on all of science?

"Your buddies there at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, for example (an organization that favors "intelligent design" over standard evolutionary science), are not arguing about evidence that can be tested," Mooney said. "They are attacking the entire scientific method."

The same tactic can be seen in many areas, he said, and it "threatens not just our public health and environment but the very integrity of American democracy, which relies heavily on scientific and technical expertise to function."

Again, Mooney said, liberal politicians and the left-wing also have distorted or negated many aspects of science to serve their aims. But conservatism is more prone to this because of its tendency to try to maintain (i.e., conserve) a cherished belief. Science, he noted, tends to disrupt and force change.

It didn't start as a conscious war on science, Mooney writes, and may not even be viewed as such by many Republicans today.

But the GOP's need to appease two core constituencies -- the religious right and those in industry seeking less regulation -- has created an anti-intellectual "perfect storm" that has evolved from arguing over specific issues into a trend that can be fairly characterized as a war on science.

Mooney isn't the only one making this claim. Last year, a prestigious group of Nobel Prize winners and 7,000 other top scientists issued a statement through the Union of Concerned Scientists warning of the intense politicization of science today.

"If left unchallenged, the Bush administration's deliberate misrepresentations and frequent outright disregard of science ... will have serious consequences for the nation's economy, health and security," said Nobel laureate Paul Berg, in endorsing Mooney's book.

Mooney, who is from New Orleans and is housing his evacuated brother, mother and other relations at his D.C. apartment, said the tragedy from Hurricane Katrina is just the most recent example of what can happen when scientific advice is ignored in favor of political expediency.

"There was a lot of good science that said this was going to happen," he said.

What can anyone do about the war on science? Mooney said he hopes his book will, at the very least, help the public appreciate what's at stake when they read about these "debates" over global warming, evolution or stem cells.

Specifically, he advocates resurrecting the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, or something like it, charged with providing elected officials with non-partisan, unbiased evidence.

Scientific advisory committees must be better insulated from political manipulation, Mooney says, and the media need to stop reporting on science as if it is a sporting event or a political debate.

"Science has proven itself to be very reliable because it is based on evidence," he said. "If we just think it's all politics and subjective information, the debate degenerates and you can't really reach a valid conclusion."

At that point, Mooney writes, all science is just political science.

To see more of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for online features, or to subscribe, go to

© 1998-2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. All Rights Reserved.

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast