Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Republican War on Social Science?

Image source: "The Republican War on Science," Earthfirst, June 5, 2008

I have been listening to an old talk by Chris Mooney on his book, The Republican War on Science (vua C-SPAN3 History). He makes the points that the Bush administration has two key constituencies -- the Christian Right and Big Business -- and that its political appointees when confronted by a difference between the interests of these constituencies and the advice of their government agency's scientists follow the constituency and overrule the scientists. He notes that think tanks run by these two constituencies have developed their own "sciences" and (in my words) make arguments based on bad science to counter the legitimate science of the government science bodies and organizations such as the National Academies and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He singles out the administration's actions vis a vis
  • reproductive biology (abortion, stem cell research, HIV prevention) and the teaching of evolution in response to the interests of the religious right, and
  • regulatory science (environment, climate change, biodiversity, offshore drilling, occupational health) in response to the interests of big business.
Mooney, acknowledging that
  • all political appointees tend to respond to their constituencies,
  • a tension between politics and science has existed in many administrations, and
  • there is no metric for politicization of "scientific" decisions of government
suggests that there is evidence that the Bush administration has taken the anti-scientific approach to new hights. He notes that in the first years of the Bush administration the Congress, under the control of the Republicans, did not provide the checks and balances to the Bush administration's war on science that the Constitution would encourage, and that the Republicans had previously eliminated the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment that provided an independent source of scientific assessment to the legislative bodies.

It occurs to me that the problem might be even more acute in terms of the Bush administration's willingness to ignore social science than that relating to natural sciences.
  • Does the current economic crisis result from a substitution of a pseudo scientific economic analysis promoted by big (financial) businesses for sound economics? Was the deregulation of the financial industry accepted by mainstream economists for ideological reasons? Were the warnings of mainstream economists about the housing bubble (and the earlier bubble) not attended to due to ideology?
  • Did the willingness of the Bush administration to get into simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stem from attending to the pseudo-scientific social science of the neo-cons in response to the neo-con political constituency, rather than listening to the mainstream social scientists in the intelligence community and academia who challenged the assumptions that those country societies were relatively homogeneous, would welcome American intervention, and would quickly adopt democratic processes and rule of lay law if given the opportunity. (The CIA and, in the past, USAID employ many PhD social scientists, and had strong social soundness analysis capabilities.)
If this hypothesis is right, a Bush administration "war on social science" may have had even more dramatic impact in the failure of Bush administration policies than did the "war on natural sciences".

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