27 October 2004

Doesn't President Bush Understand Science?

President Bush just doesn't understand science! But that's hardly surprising—few people do!

There have been lots of complaints that the Bush Administration has not listened to scientists, has relied on "junk science", has suppressed federally-funded science that does not support its political objectives, and in general has been quite "political" in its use of science.

Of course it has! The administration's job, to enforce the law and uphold the constitution, and to achieve the political goals for which it was elected, has little to do with science. This is true of all administrations. Politicians are dedicated to solving political problems.

Science may sometimes influence policy, but she can never trump politics.

Even so, maybe the administration of President George W. Bush is even less interested in what science might have to offer toward the solutions of political problems than other administrations have been. This is to be expected given the personality and background of the President and the advisers he has assembled around him.

President Bush is a born-again Christian. He takes things on faith. Facts are unlikely to help him, and probably just get in the way.

Scientists are people too, with their own biases, beliefs and blind spots. But as participants in the enterprise we call "Science" they submit themselves to the tyranny of facts. They may disagree about what the true facts are, but they have a method to resolve such differences: get more data and see which interpretation is supported and which isn't. When scientists ignore well-attested data to cling to beliefs by faith alone, they are no longer participants in that enterprise and science passes them by.

Science is an endless project to learn how the world works Politics is a process to determine who gets what . . . right now!

Science can be enlisted by politicians (of any stripe) to help achieve their political objectives. If she presents an obstacle to achieving those objectives she can be ignored, subverted, overridden. Of course, in modern America, science still has status as the source of technology and the foundation of our power and prosperity, so politicians always pay lip-service to science. They try to obscure their annoyance with her.

The discoveries of science and the understanding of the world she develops often challenge the world-view of those in power, and threaten the foundations of that power. Science can't help being potentially, and maybe fundamentally, disruptive.

Frustrating, but not surprising. And there is little we can do about it. Just be careful whom you vote for.
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veggiedude said...

So we have four more years of ignoring science. At least California is on track to attract all the brains in the biological sciences.

Anonymous said...

What "tyranny of facts?" It be easier to believe that scientists were more objective and less driven by their own faith if so many of them weren't glomming onto global warming. Even if the climate was warming, who is it that believes the idea that the climate as it is today should never change, ignoring all past ups and downs?

Perhaps as science has gotten more and more political, it has become less and less attractive to those who don't follow the herd mentality.