Bush has not politicized, but challenged science

Editorial

Accusations leveled last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists that the Bush administration is politicizing science opened audacious new frontiers in hypocrisy. That’s not only a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but it turns reality on its head.
Perhaps no group in history has done more to politicize science than UCS — though there are plenty of worthy competitors. And what the Bush administration has done to anger these radicals in lab coats is to insist that proposed government regulations be backed up by solid, mature, rigorously peer-reviewed science, and subjected by the Office of Management and Budget to the kind of cost-benefit analysis that’s necessary in a world of limited resources and unavoidable trade offs.
The administration, in short, is being pilloried for challenging the regulate-first-worry-about-the-science-later mentality that for too long has held sway in Washington, and which helped build the regulatory super state on frequently flimsy scientific justifications. Greens call that politicizing science; we see it as providing a necessary counterweight to the sensationalized brand of pseudo-science they often use to advance their regulatory agendas.
We note that the latest issue of Catalyst, UCS’s propaganda organ, in lauding the pending retirement of longtime leader, Howard Ris Jr., didn’t exactly play up the man’s Nobel prizes. “22 years of Activism,” is how it summed up his career.
To UCS and other cogs in the American anxiety industry, any scientist who questions or contradicts the idea that the world is on the brink of catastrophe (and capitalism and modern industrial society to blame for it) is a heretic. If one doubts it, just recall the savaging Danish statistics professor Bjorn Lomborg received at the hands of some in the scientific community following the publication of his book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” which challenges many of the sensationalized claims made by greens. Skepticism was once the hallmark of the reputable scientist; today, it’s likely to get one burned at the stake.
How could reputedly objective scientists be seduced into the role of advocates? First, because they are human, and susceptible to all the other biases and political prejudices that humans are. And second, because sensationalism pays. No one ever received a big government grant or garnered headlines arguing that everything was right with the world. And especially not today, when extreme claims and assertions are a daily part of public discourse.
It’s not coincidental that two of the most well known scientists of modern times, Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, each owed much of their fame to extreme and scientifically dubious doomsday predictions. Sagan touted the pro-nuclear disarmament concept of nuclear winter; Ehrlich became a bestselling author peddling apocalyptic scenarios that never came true.
If the credibility of science is today suspect — and we believe such skepticism is long overdue — blame must largely lie with those who have twisted science to advance what are clearly ideological and economic agendas, and lent their names to the extreme environmental agenda. Blame lies, too, with those in academia, who, if not directly complicit in this hijacking of science, are at least guilty of not standing against it.