Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Unpopular Science

Believe it or not, of all the reprehensible, corrupt and unprincipled acts perpetrated by the Bush Administration, its staggeringly audacious battle against science always struck me as the most insidious. I mean, as disgusting and intellectually dishonest as it is to argue semantics when it comes to what does and doesn't constitute torture -- and as much as Bush himself is almost inarguably guilty of lying through his teeth about what this country was up to -- at least the subject can legitimately be debated.

On the other hand, the Bush White House's seemingly bottomless reservoir of distrust, obfuscation, parlor trickery and outright horseshit when it came to its treatment of science and intellectualism still boggles the mind. I doubt that ever before in human history was there such a pointed correlation between the quality of scientific work being done and the amount of doubt in that work being sown by a supposedly enlightened and civilized bureaucracy. From stem cell research, to global climate change, to evolution, to birth control, proven fact was regularly demonized or simply ignored when it didn't support firmly held right-wing dogma. What's worse, scientific advancements were often unfairly questioned or halted altogether simply to appease a voting bloc whose belief system was rooted solely in the teachings of a 2,000 year old book. Faith trumped reason constantly -- so often in fact that it became a kind of global punchline that, in the United States, you could argue that two plus two no longer equaled four and people would actually listen. A fierce intellect wasn't something to strive for; it was something to distrust -- or worse, to ridicule.

So where do we go from here?

How do we rebuild this country's scientific foundation after eight years of scorched earth?

Read on, and hope that President Obama is listening.

Mother Jones: Return of the Geeks (From October of Last Year, h/t Elvis Dingeldein at GDAB)


DXM: Six of Dumb, Half Dozen of Dumber/10.2.08

DXM: He Blinded Me Without Science/8.12.08


Chris said...

I'm in agreement. This is what I found so upsetting, how did science and use of intellect become something reprehensible?

So nice to have an adult in charge again. Although a 6 year old would have made more intelligent choices than the past administration.

Matt Osborne said...

At what point was the GOP captured by the anti-intellectuals? The party of Buckley and Goldwater is now run by know-nothings like Sarah Palin. There used to be a time when I could respect the conservative movement -- but not anymore. Now I have zero patience for their bullshit. That is the legacy of the Bush years: I stop listening and start shouting as soon as I hear irrationality, unscientific reasoning, or lies. I can't give them a pass anymore.

VOTAR said...

At the risk of advocating the opponent's position, part of the problem is the ease with which each side unquestionably accepts their own arguments without reasonable self-criticism. For example, probably without giving it a lot of forethought, you easily typed the words "proven fact" in the same sentence as the terms "evolution" and "global climate change."

A better way to put it -- in fact, in my opinion, the only intellectually honest way to put it -- would be something like "current scientific findings," or something. That's pretty safe territory to stay in when we talk about evolution, but the jury is still way way out on climate change -- despite the media hype over it (which is, itself, part of the problem).

I tend to accept what most people accept about both (notice I'm not saying believe; I never use that word, ever). But recently I've been trying to educate myself more about climate change because I have conservative republican friends who don't hide their feelings about the subject. To maintain those friendships I have to endure a lot of anti-Obama, and particularly, anti-Gore rhetoric. I'm faced with a choice: a) keep my mouth shut, b) rise in the defense of the theory of anthropogenic global warming without knowing what the hell I'm talking about, or c) do a little independent research.

The bottom line, from what I've learned so far, is that there are enough legitimate doubts about this issue that it perhaps does not yet belong in the realm of "proven fact." This leaves me in a weird place, sort of like when the dad in Calvin and Hobbes convinces Calvin to see two sides of an argument and his whole world turns into a Cubist painting. On the one hand, even though it had the obvious effect of further alienating the US from the rest of the enlightened world, I can at least understand the reasoning behind Bush's refusal to sign onto the Kyoto accords; on the other hand, I want nothing more than to see him and the other guilty war criminals black-bagged, shoved into an unmarked van, and marched onto a gallows platform erected on the steps of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Whenever I'm asked, I tell people I voted for Obama not because he's a democrat, or because he's liberal, or because he's black (I'm 0 for 3 on that list anyway). I voted for him because he's smart. George Bush is evil, and dumb, and he was surrounded by people who were evil and brilliant. What a relief it is to witness the era of a leader whose motivation is to do the right thing -- even if he ultimately fails in the effort. I'll take that, any day, over someone who succeeds while committing evil.

Deacon Blue said...

It's not scorched earth, Chez. There was a lost of intellectual deforestation, but research went on, our people worked with people in other countries that weren't tamping down on stuff so hard, and the people with brains kept on thinking.

I'm more worried about the environmental damage from all the rolled back water and air protections and such. The science part will recover and prosper just fine.

david said...

One word for you, or a name, really... Galileo. The gorilla-brained fundamentalist mindset has long been at work. We just thought we'd moved past it. Silly humans.