Ever since George W. Bush became president, some have been complaining about “the politicization of science” or the idea that the current administration is undermining, ignoring, and stifling science in the United States.
But what the complainers are usually doing is conflating science and policy. Various policy preferences can be supported with scientific evidence, but that doesn’t make the policy preferences themselves “science.” One can disagree with a scientist’s political or policy views without “undermining science.”
The NY Times yesterday reports on a gathering of disgruntled government-employed and -funded scientists who think the administration isn’t listening to to them enough when making policy. This, of course, is hysterically portrayed as “an attack on scientific freedom.”
At a Scientific Gathering, U.S. Policies Are Lamented
ST. LOUIS, Feb. 18 “” David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist and president of the California Institute of Technology, is used to the Bush administration misrepresenting scientific findings to support its policy aims, he told an audience of fellow researchers Saturday. Each time it happens, he said, “I shrug and say, ‘What do you expect?’ “
No examples of any misrepresentation were offered.
But then, Dr. Baltimore went on, he began to read about the administration’s embrace of the theory of the unitary executive, the idea that the executive branch has the power or even the obligation to act without restraint from Congress.
Hopefully Dr. Baltimore knows more about science than about legal theory. The “unitary executive” has nothing to do with “the idea that the executive branch has the power or even the obligation to act without restraint from Congress.” That’s the kind of nonsense one would read on some nutty Angry Left blog. The idea of the unitary executive, recall, merely holds that executive power resides in the executive branch. So we can begin to see where Dr. Baltimore is coming from here. Knee-jerk lefty talking points are not science.
Dr. Baltimore continues:
“It’s no accident that we are seeing such an extensive suppression of scientific freedom,” he said. “It’s part of the theory of government now, and it’s a theory we need to vociferously oppose.” Far from twisting science to suit its own goals, he said, the government should be “the guardian of intellectual freedom.”
But of course his freedom is not being suppressed, he can do all the scientific inquiry he wishes. First, he doesn’t have to do his experiments on the government’s nickel. Second, his real problem is that his favored policies aren’t being implemented. Again, science and policy are not the same thing.
Another speaker, Susan F. Wood, former director of the office of women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration, said administration interference with the agency’s scientific and regulatory processes had left morale there at a “nadir.”
“Administration interference” – note that the FDA is an executive branch agency; they work for the administration, not the other way around. Ms. Wood forgot that she was an employee, not the boss. And again, she’s objecting to a policy decision, not any suppression of scientific inquiry.
Dr. Wood, who received a standing ovation from many in the audience, resigned in August to protest agency officials’ unusual decision to overrule an expert panel and withhold marketing approval for Plan B, the so-called morning after pill, a form of emergency contraception. She said she feared that competent scientists would leave rather than remain at an agency where their work was ignored because “social conservatives have extreme undue influence.”
Uh oh, not “social conservatives.” This gives us a good idea of Wood’s political leanings. Note that “social conservatives” is not a scientific term. In other words, people, some of whom are also scientists (yes, some of those dreaded “social conservatives” are also scientists!), have different policy priorities than Wood. Differences in policy priorities are not an “attack on science.”
The Times piece ends with this:
Leslie Sussan, a lawyer with the Department of Health and Human Services who emphasized that she was speaking only for herself, drew applause when she said she saw the administration’s science policies as “an attack on the rule of law as a basis for self-government and democracy.”
A lawyer spouting some liberal political boilerplate at a conference supposedly opposed to politicizing science. Classic irony.
Embryonic stem cells, science and morality
Who’s politicizing science?
Also linked at The Mudville Gazette