NSL Blog

Science: ideology and politics

December 16, 2011

An extraordinary story of how science is becoming highly politicised is told by Shawn Lawrence Otto.

First off less than 2% of Congress totaling 535 members, have professional backgrounds in science, whereas there are 222 lawyers.

When in 1987 the Federal Communications Commission removed the fairness doctrine of how difficult or controversial news was reported it open the door to more extreme punditry, take a bow Rush Limbaugh. And we have witnessed an increasing line of anti-science perspectives from Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, with the whip held by Newt Gringrich.

And Otto argues right now science is under threat by anti-climate change organisations – between 2009 and June 2010 the energy industry spent half a billion dollars fighting climate change legislation. He writes that 96 of the 100 newly elected Republican members of Congress deny outright that climate change is real or are voting against it in one form or another.

That said, Otto argues there are complex forces that are shaping the debate on public perceptions towards science, ‘the moral ambiguity created after the dropping of the Atom bomb and living in a nuclear MAD world’, or some of the terrible excesses of toxic pollution that killed and maimed ordinary people – coupled with the culpability of government, the effects of postmodernism on the one hand and the rise of fundamentalist religion on the other smashing into each other. A deep distrust arouse around government and science.

This is the volatile cocktail that combines – commerce, science, truth and politics and results says Otto on an assault on American science that is unprecedented. Though the Barack Obama administration does not get away with it scott free

President Obama’s not much better. Running strong on climate change in 2008, he has since totally de-prioritized it, apparently marginalizing his scientist appointees like Chu, Holdren and Lubchenco, all of them outspoken on climate change, and now appears to be moving ahead with offshore oil drilling, lower air pollution standards, poor carbon standards, and the Keystone XL oil pipeline. In a time when the science has only advanced further and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences says anthropogenic global warming should be “regarded as settled facts” — a time when China’s leapfrogging ahead on clean energy investments in the next economy, that’s not going to take America where we need to go.

Finally Otto refers to ScienceDebate2012 as he describes it, ‘a grassroots campaign for a presidential debate on science, technology, health, medicine and the environment’. Which was born out of Science Debate 2008 which was the largest political initiative in the history of American science.

We are on a journey from a linear world to a non-linear one and we need good science to come with us. To attempt to shout down science, diminishes us all and limits the possibilities of our world. Ultimately I would argue our destiny and future is shaped by science, yet we shape it. What does science want? It wants what we want – a better understanding of the world we live in.

For more information on Otto’s perspective read New Scientist October 27th 2011 (subscription required) or the Huffington Post- The un-American war on Science.

Shawn Otto has written book called Fool Me Twice: fighting the assault on science in America. No Straight Lines store

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