Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Freedom of Speech & Science

Republicans in Congress are doing their best to justify patently wrong headed policy by the Bush administration. Evidently, Republicans believe it is just fine for policy wonks with no scientific credentials to alter the reports of scientists when it comes to global warming. According to Rep. Chris Cannon "Free speech is not a simple thing and is subject to and directed by policy,"

That statement is highly objectionable. Free speech is ok, so long as what you say reflects policy? Thats not free speech at all, and trying to claim that administration goals and policies ought to guide science is simply asinine. Especially when the administration in question has such a horrible record when it comes to science issues. Global warming, evolution vs creationism, combating aids by insisting on abstinence only programs, plan b contraception... all of these and more scientific issues have been wrongly decided by this administration. But we should think it's ok for their policy goals to be reflected by the scientists, not for the policy to be guided by the scientists. It seems to me that the Republicans have this backwards!

James Hansen, one of the most vocal critics of the administration on global warming, caused a bit of a stir when he likened administration policy to the tactics used by Nazi Germany... which I must say is a bit of a reach for me. Hansen has a problem with the administrations policy of having a "government information officer" being present during his interviews with reporters, and refusing to allow him to be interviewed by NPR. I'm certain Nazi Germany had the same sort of issues, but the silencing of those who do not agree with the state is common in authoritarian regimes the world over. Cubans, Chinese, North Koreans,... you name the dictatorship, you will see that type of big brother control of information. I find it highly objectionable, but to single out the Nazi's for comparison is to take the debate to a whole other level, which I do not believe fits the situation at this time.

If Hansen gets abit shrill about this, I can hardly blame him though. Science is science. There are certain truths that can not be washed away by the whims of political affiliation. As an extreme example, imagine a President deciding due to religious concerns that science should demonstrate that the Sun rotated around the Earth, or that the Earth is flat. There is no conceivable way that it would be acceptable for scientists to be forced to knuckle under to an obviously wrong headed point of view. Yet Republicans expect just that. If scientists refuse to bow to the political will of the administration they will be censored and shadowed in ways that remind us of the very regimes they purport to fight against.

When Republicans like Rep. Darrell Issa say stuff like "I am concerned that many scientists are increasingly engaging in political advocacy and that some issues of science have become increasingly partisan as some politicians sense that there is a political gain to be found on issues like stem cells, teaching evolution and climate change," we need to understand what he is really saying. Science only can be used as a political club when a certain ideology decides that dogma should serve as the foundation for policy rather than science. In the scientific community the major controversies of our time are not being debated. Evolution and global warming are widely accepted, with only the occasional big oil shill or religiously motivated scientific luddite being in opposition. Saying that creationism holds the same gravitas as evolution in scientific circles is equivalent to saying that some medical professionals think that smoking is not addictive. The vast majority of the medical community would strenuously object, but until very recently big tobacco had their shills who made precisely that argument.

I understand what I'm about to say is highly partisan, and liable to irritate Republicans to no end should they read it. But this reflects my thinking on all this precisely. To Republicans I say science does not have a particular point of view beyond seeking truth. I understand that quite often, truth by it's very nature is subversive and tends to back the liberal side of the great political divide. Reporting facts leads to network news being demonized as liberal. One of the major guiding principles of this administration early on was that reality was not what ought to guide policy, but that they should create their own reality. However, no matter how hard you fight it, I am a firm believer that the truth will win the day when all is said and done. Dogma and idealism may shake the foundations and try to storm the gates, but truth is what it is. That can not be changed no matter who holds the apparatus that feeds us our information. Some of us may think the earth is flat, but that does not make it so.

What can be changed however is political leadership that refuses to acknowledge the validity of science, and truth.

I agree with you, for the most part, my bald-headed friend, but there are many similarities to the Nazis involved here.

They seem to be using Shirer's, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, like an NFL Playbook.

I had a post last October with some interesting stuff from Laurence Britt. The post is titled, The F-Word, check it out.

I agree that they use many of the same tactics, but that is because the Nazi's being totalitarian used totalitarian tactics in use around the world, through out history by tyranical regimes. I think Hansen would also have been correct to say this was the same as tactics used by Cuba, or China for example.

I hold my fire on the "this equals Nazi" charge until a particularly dark and evil line is crossed. To me, codifying torture and the dissapearance of detainees as official policy is approaching the line I draw regarding the Nazi equation. I wasn't ver

So on controlling information, I agree this administration is traveling the same road the Nazi's did. It is the road travelled by all despots.

And thanks for checking in Brother Tim... I really appreciate another lefty Christian popping by every so often and giving some input.
hmmm... to finish the thought cut off with the end of the 2nd paragraph...

I wasn't very upset then Senator Durbin stood on the Senate floor and compared our treatment of detainees to the soviet gulags. It now turns out that he was literally correct.
Being a government employee means that the public will take Jim Hansen's words as "a government decree." And he only risks losing his job if he speaks out against his employer. That is standard practice anywhere for upper management. You compare this to Cuba or China?

As for global warming being "widely accepted", it is also widely rejected. See http://www.oism.org/oism/s32p31.htm or just google "global warming scam". There may be more scientists who reject it than accept it, but they don't get funding or liberal celebrity endorsements. There are so many flaws in the global warming theory I don't know where to begin.
Check out http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4520665474899458831
for an interesting scientific look at global warming from a skeptic's perspective. That will convince you.
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