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The GOP "War on Science":

There have been quite a few accusations against the Bush Administration for politically motivated abuse of science. Many of these accusations have merit, but not all. Some charges have been exaggerated. One recent example is PEER's charge that the National Park Service was altering its account of the Grand Canyon's origins to accomodate creationists. Many attacks have also been quite partisan, stressing the failings of the Bush Administration without comparing its abuses to those of other administations, and there has been relatively little consideration of the broader institutional context in which political science abuse occurs. Such examination would not excuse the Bush Administation for its missteps and abuses, but it would faciliate serious discussion of how to reduce science politicization.

The canonical text for those who assail the Bush Administration's abuse of science is The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. Mooney maintains that the political right is primarily responsible for political science abuse, and lays most of the blame at the feet of corporate lobbyists and religious conservatives. While acknowledging, in passing, that environmental activists and Democratic administrations have engaged in political science abuse of their own, he trains his sights on the Right.

Mooney's book was recently released in an expanded and updated paperback edition. I wrote a review of this edition for Regulation, that is now posted on SSRN. The abstract follows:

Chris Mooney's "Republican War on Science" argues that the political right, and in particular the Bush Administration, are guilty of rampant "political science abuse," defined as "any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons." Mooney correctly identifies many example of such abuse by conservative organizations and Republican politicians, but some of his charges are overwrought, if not misleading. Overall the book has three central flaws. First, Mooney has a penchant for characterizing some legitimate science-related policy positions with which he disagrees as "abuses" of science. Second, he exhibits a blind spot to the misuse and politicization of science by those who espouse political agendas with which he agrees. Third and most important, Mooney pays little attention to the larger institutional context that generates political pressures on science. The politicization of science is a real problem, yet lacking any serious consideration of the broader institutional context in which such politicization occurs, Republican War ultimately fails in its diagnosis and prescriptions.
The Bush Administration deserves criticism for politicizing and abusing science in many instances. Yet science abuse is not a partisan phenomenon. There is plenty of blame to go around. Even if the Bush Administration's abuses are quantitatively or qualitatively worse than its predecessors — and I am unconvinced on this score — the solution to the problem of political science abuse lies in institutional reform, rather than partisan politics.

UPDATE: One of the best examples of the politicization of science by the "left" — and one of the few that Mooney acknowledges — is the treatment of agricultural biotechnology, and the decision to subject such products to more stringent regulatory review than those developed with other methods. This policy has no scientific basis, as the National Academy of Sciences has stated many times.

Another example would be claims by environmentalist groups that pesticide residues on foods pose a significant cancer risk, a claim which the NAS has also rejected. A third would be seeking endangered species listings for the purpose of halting development. A fourth would be efforts to claim asthma incidence (as opposed to asthma attacks) are related to outdoor air pollution, when there is no data to support such a claim. A fifth would be the EPA's second-hand smoke study, which a federal court found was driven to reach a predetermined result. A sixth would be claims that the "precautionary principle" is a "science-based" approach to risk, when it acutally reflects a normative policy judgment about how to weigh and evaluate risks. A seventh would be the compounded conservatisms that are embedded into many agency risk assessments, such as those conducted for the federal Superfund program. An eighth would be molding "ecosystem management" to satisfy non-scientific normative preferences about how land should be managed. And so on.

Some of these occurred within the Clinton Administration, others were the result of interest group action and occurred at other times. Overall, however, one can only claim the Clinton Administration never abused science for political reasons if one wasn't paying attention. Examples beyond those mentioned above are easy to come by. Here are two from Ronald Bailey:

In 1993, Princeton University physicist William Happer was fired from the Department of Energy because he disagreed with Vice President Al Gore's views on stratospheric ozone depletion. In 1994, President Bill Clinton rejected the finding from the Embryo Research Panel of the National Institutes of Health which declared that the intentional creation of human embryos for genetic research was ethical. Clinton simply banned any federal funding for such research.
Others include the witholding of agency analyses so as to prevent their publication at poltiically inconvenient times and the gross misrepresentation of scientific findings by agency officials in speeches and media appearances.

If we are allowed to consider the plaintiffs' bar as a "left" interest — as corporate groups are considered to be on the "right" — then there are many more examples relating to all sorts of "junk science" tort claims, some of which my co-blogger David Bernstein has documented. Then there is the politicization and denigration of science that occurs within academia, such as Paul Gross and Norman Levitt documented in their book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science.

It is certainly possible that the Bush Administration is worse than prior Democratic Administrations, but I don't think Mooney makes his case because he doesn't seriously examine the most serious charges against prior administrations, nor does he consider the broader institutional context. This does not excuse the Bush Adminsitration at all, but it is relevant if one seriously seeks to address the underlying problem.

If the Bush Administration is worse than prior administrations, there are potential, non-partisan explanations. For instance, I suspect it makes a difference whether Congress is controlled by the opposing party. When it isn't, an administration may act more irresponsibly. Yet if this is the case, it is not because Republicans are in power, but because there is insufficient legislative oversight, and there is no reason to believe that unified Democratic government would behave any better.

Another possible argument is that politically motivated science abuse by the Right should be a greater concern because the Republican Party has substantial political power, whereas leftist luddite academics can do little more than contaminate the minds of their most gullible students. This argument is plausible, but it is not the claim Mooney makes in his book (though I have heard him make it in a speech). Mooney's argument is not just that the GOP attacks science (it does), and that this is bad (it is), but also that Democrats and the Left are much better. This is where his argument has the greatest problems. Among other things, I find the argument unconvincing because left-leaning science abuse is quite rampant in certain policy areas, such as environmental protection.

[NOTE: I hit publish before I was finished this update, so if it appears to have changed, it did. I added more examples and fixed some typos.]

llamasex (mail) (www):
I am having trouble following your post. You say there have been some attacks on science, then list a some rightfully discredited attacks, then quote your negative review, then play the equivalency card.

I don't think I am in the minority when I say yes science and politics have always interacted and science is always on the bottom, but under Bush it is much worse.

Its akin to corruption these last 6 or so years there has always been corruption with politics, but it has gotten worse under Bush (maybe historically not the worst ever, but the worst I've known in my short life)

Just an example of the attacks on science (I haven't read the book and tend to stay away from political books that as someone put seem like long editorials drawn out to booklength)

George C Deutsch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Deutsch

"George Carlton Deutsch III was a press officer of the United States space agency NASA. He was appointed to the position by George W. Bush, having previously worked in the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign "war room." [1]

Deutsch gained notoriety in February 2006, when it was reported he ordered the adjustment of NASA websites mentioning Big Bang include the word "theory" afterwards. His comments in the internal NASA email quoted by the New York Times raised concerns because of its religious overtones. Deutsch wrote,

It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator... This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.

He was also connected with Dr. James Hansen's allegations of censorship of science reporting within NASA. [2]

On February 6, 2006, Rhodes Scholar and Texas A&M alumnus Nick Anthis published on his weblog The Scientific Activist news that Deutsch had lied on his résumé about earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Texas A&M University in 2003. [3] Deutsch did attend A&M, but left school in 2004 to work for George W. Bush's reelection campaign. Following this revelation, on February 7, 2006, Deutsch resigned from his post at NASA. [4]"

The NYT piece on the censorship of James Hanson
1.25.2007 6:37pm
Nick H.:
I'm also quite frustrated by the politization of science.

You've piqued my curiosity, what sort of abuses of science have been made by the left and environmental groups?
1.25.2007 6:41pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Nick H., why would a comparison between the abuses of the left and environmental groups bad science (which is very easy to come by) and Bush's political attacks on science (also easy to come by) be of any value?

Shouldn't you be asking to compare examples Clinton's attack on science (which I think is not all that easy to come by, he might have left a sex study in his draw, or was that just a West Wing episode, maybe some drug thing, though those are par for course in politics and my contention is Bush has gone far beyond par) or at least a democratic party controlled congress?
1.25.2007 6:47pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Out of curiosity, has any bad thing NOT gotten worse under bush, Llama?
1.25.2007 6:55pm
Perseus (mail):
Speaking as someone whose discipline is political science, I find the term "political science abuse" to be most unfortunate.
1.25.2007 6:56pm
Adam B. (www):
1.25.2007 6:58pm
Elliot Reed:
Can you elaborate on the misrepresentations of science by Democratic administrations?
1.25.2007 7:01pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Very interesting... I think I'm going to go read his DailyKos diary right now. Thanks for the heads up, Adam.
1.25.2007 7:03pm
GMUSL 3L (mail):
I'd say that those on the left who say that "race is a social construct," despite the overwhelming amount of genetic data to the contrary, guilty of abusing science by relying on cherry-pickers like Lewontin (of the eponymous "Lewontin's Fallacy"), or that "Men and Women are biologically equal."

If you want more, look at the reaction to Larry Summers' completely reasonable statement about a POSSIBLE biological component to differences between men and women.
1.25.2007 7:04pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Out of curiosity, has any bad thing NOT gotten worse under bush, Llama?

He did institute the national no-call list. When he is searching for his legacy (hopefully from a jail cell), he can proudly point to that.
1.25.2007 7:06pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Does eugenics count?
1.25.2007 7:07pm
Colin (mail):
You've piqued my curiosity, what sort of abuses of science have been made by the left and environmental groups?

As a liberal and someone with a significant interest in this area (see my mildly related LR article with Timothy Sandefur), it pains me to say that there are plenty. For a really egregious example in terms of sheer vapidity, see Deepak Chopra's anti-evolutionary ramblings on the Huffington Post. For a really egregious example in terms of real humans injured by stupidity, see the thimerosol vaccination scare. A good source is Seed magazine's collection of science bloggers; they tend to be very up-front about calling out liberal abuses of science, although they're predominantly liberal themselves.

There is, of course, a question about whether liberal administrations have politicized science to the same degree. Mooney argues, and I think pretty convincingly, that they haven't. He's upfront and honest that bad science is a bipartisan thing, and his book does explain why he singles out the GOP. If you're interested, I'm sure he's written more about it on his blog.
1.25.2007 7:17pm
Michael B (mail):
"Can you elaborate on the misrepresentations of science by Democratic administrations?" Elliot Reed

More broadly conceived, the Left tends to politicize philosophy, the humanities and the sometimes labeled "soft sciences," moreso than hard sciences. I'm a dabbler and no philosopher, but Marxism in sundry manifestations and "continental philosophy" more broadly can often enough be considered, variously, a truncation, a short circuiting, a circumlocution, etc. of a more thoroughgoing, a more rigorous and more disciplined philosophical discourse.

Among the more renowned instances Pol Pot spent time on the Left Bank during one of its more ideologically intractable period. Uncle Ho, if rather less formally, before him. But those are simply a couple of prominent indexes, a pair who moved on to "greater" things.
1.25.2007 7:17pm
Bret (mail):
Subjects of Leftist "abuses of science": Nuclear Winter, Nuclear Power, Second-hand Smoke, the Larry Summer's affair, and, more controversially, AGW.

Analogous to the silencing of James Hanson would be the silencing of Exxon/Mobil recently.
1.25.2007 7:18pm
Colin (mail):
Shorter Michael B: "No, I can't."
1.25.2007 7:19pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Bret? What silencing of Exxon/Mobil?
1.25.2007 7:20pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I'd say that those on the left who say that "race is a social construct,"

Well, if by race you mean broad groupings like "black", "white", "Asian", "pacific islander", "American Indian", then yes, it is a social construct. A "black" man from the horn of Africa is probably as genetically different from white man from Norway as he is from another "black" man from southern Africa. American Indians for the most part are incredibly homogeneous (although new evidence is beginning to show that there may have been more than one migration into the Americas and that there are small groups of Indians that are of different genetic groups from the majority group), but are about as genetically removed from Aleuts and other groups of peoples of the far north (but not all) as white Europeans are from the Arabs. So are isolated groups in Europe (the Catalans, the Laps, the Roma) that are considered "white" but actually come from a genetic stock that predates that of most Europeans.
1.25.2007 7:21pm
wm13:
Shorter Bret: Sure, it's easy, here you go.
1.25.2007 7:24pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Wm13 as I pointed out earlier pointing to "the left" ignorances on science is easy, but have did Clinton hire leftist who didn't finish college to tell Nuclear winter is a myth scientists not to publish or promote their findings in that area?
1.25.2007 7:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
How about 'women who make charges of rape are never lying'?
1.25.2007 7:29pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Subjects of Leftist "abuses of science": Nuclear Winter, Nuclear Power, Second-hand Smoke, the Larry Summer's affair, and, more controversially, AGW.

Focus people, we are asking for examples of Democratic controlled governments bending science to justify its policies or appeal to its base (like Bushs' cynical rejection of Federally funded embryonic stem cell research to throw a bone to his conservative Christian pro-life base ). Not theories that were thrown out for political purposes. btw nuclear winter was a perfectly valid theory and Larry Summers' comment was boneheaded stupid.
1.25.2007 7:29pm
Elliot Reed:
Michael B: "More broadly conceived, the Left . . ."

I have no interest in disputing that people and groups in the "broadly conceived" left-wing have abused science in all kinds of ways. There really is plenty of blame to go around there, though I'd disagree with your particular examples. I was referring specifically to Adler's claim that the Bush administration is no worse than previous administrations on this issue.
1.25.2007 7:30pm
Bret (mail):
quick note before I try to go google democratically controlled governments bending science:

Nuclear Winter has never and will never be a perfectly valid theory. It's just a badly formed theory, and it doesn't help that all empirical evidence shows otherwise.

That's why in the late eighties it was renamed "Nuclear Autumn" and then faded into obscurity.
1.25.2007 7:33pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
bret, that you have to google some obscure example, doesn't that support the point it isn't as widespread?
1.25.2007 7:35pm
Edward Lee (www):
You've piqued my curiosity, what sort of abuses of science have been made by the left and environmental groups?

Does stirring up irrational fears about genetically modified crops count?
1.25.2007 7:36pm
wm13:
For those who are genuinely curious, check out Michael Crichton's essay "Aliens Cause Global Warning"--I don't know how to post links but you can easily find ir via Google. Maybe it's because I am more of a social scientist than a natural scientist, but for the head of the EPA to open deride the entire concept of statistical significance, and to promulgate regulations in complete derogation of that concept, seems to me as bad as anything the Bush administration has done.
1.25.2007 7:37pm
Elliot Reed:
How about 'women who make charges of rape are never lying'?
Shockingly, it's easy to come up with examples of your opponents acting improperly if you feel free to ignore reality and make shit up. Can you please provide one example of someone saying this?
1.25.2007 7:37pm
Bret (mail):
llamasex, no, it supports the point that was 17 when someone besides Bush was president and I wasn't paying attention back then.
1.25.2007 7:37pm
Bryan DB:
Prof. Adler,
I believe there's a Volokh post around here calling your name. When you say "There is plenty of blame to go around" your rebuttal could benefit from at least one concrete example. Otherwise, you stand on the shoulders of the weak "some people say" argument, which Eugene has rightfully denigrated in the past. I expected to find at least one of these in your SSRN paper, but found nothing (maybe I need more coffee).
1.25.2007 7:38pm
U.Va. 2L:
Prof. Adler,

I'm having a hard time seeing why it's a flaw that Mooney's book doesn't deal with misuses of science by Democrats. After all, the book deliberately is only about Republican misuses of science. Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but this book's whole focus was only part of the blame. I don't see how you can fault an author for not considering topics that were beyond the scope of a book in the first place.
1.25.2007 7:42pm
Michael B (mail):
Shorter Colin: sniffs to avoid anything substantial.

But beyond deflections, if the Left in general were to be addressed then begin with Lysenkoism and proceed from there. It's not exactly a difficult undertaking as others have already noted.

Or, if domestic administrations are to be kept front and center, Larry Summers did come out of the Clinton administration. But further still and more critically, when the broader zeitgeist within academe already willingly conforms to expectations, there's rather less of a need to more formally seek political leverage points in the first place. Thus, as already noted, the Larry Summers example.
1.25.2007 7:42pm
The Red Menace (mail):
As funny as this game of "when did the democrats ignore science" truly is. I would think that a group of people who chose John Edwards as a representative of their party should be forever banned from ever blaming another for "abuse of science."
1.25.2007 7:45pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
"Larry Summers did come out of the Clinton administration"? Clinton appointed the President of Harvard? Or did Summers do something in his political role I am not aware of?
1.25.2007 7:46pm
Mark Field (mail):

Nuclear Winter has never and will never be a perfectly valid theory.


This is waaaaay overstated. The science behind the original TTAPS study was quite legitimate. It's ultimate accuracy, like that of all science, is open for discussion.
1.25.2007 7:48pm
Loki13 (mail):
Bret's examples give us a useful distinction between the past 'misuse' of science and the misuse of science by the current administration (I hesitate to the use the word 'right' or even 'Republican' in reference to the Bush administration).

The past:
Nuclear Winter- A hypothesis regarding a nuclear exchange backed by science (originally, I believe, piqued by interest from observations about Krakatoa). The science has changed over time, as have the pronouncements. *This is how science works.* Currently, the belief (2006 study) is that there would be catastrophic cooling from an exchange of 100 Hiroshima-size weapons (in, say, the subcontinent) that would cause catastrophic cooling. Is this a nuclear winter, or a nuclear autumn?

The current administration:
NASA can't use the word 'big bang'.

The difference? Good faith.
1.25.2007 7:49pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
The Red Menace, What anti-science political bending did John Edwards do as a Senator, or in a political position?
1.25.2007 7:50pm
Elliot Reed:
I find it interesting that none of Adler's defenders have come up with a single instance of abuse of science by a Democratic administration. They've all changed the subject from Adler's (dubious) claim to the (much easier-to-prove) claims about abuse of science by the Left "broadly conceived".
1.25.2007 7:53pm
Michael B (mail):
Elliot Reed,

That's fine, keep it narrowly tailored to domestic admins (though I can't help but wonder how you'd disagree with the examples given). Too, it's hardly OT to note related "confluences," impairments, truncations, etc. of the academic/ideology nexus and divide. E.g., in the originating post itself the statement that "Mooney maintains that the political right is primarily responsible for political science abuse ..."
1.25.2007 7:54pm
Bret (mail):
Mark Field: At the risk of hijacking a thread (too late?) I'm going to have to disagree with you. The model in the original TTAPS study was quite primitive and, as a result, produced highly inaccurate results. Regardless, it wasn't bad science, per se. What was the real evil was the over-politicization of the science. Which led to all sorts of distortions and mass hysteria. Which I think is more to the point of this post.

In fact, Sagan (the "S" in TTAPS) tried to later apply this theory to the Kuwaiti Oil Fires after Gulf War I and missed the mark entirely. He letter admitted that this prediction was one of his biggest failures.
1.25.2007 7:55pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
I am not following how Nuclear Winter is a useful example here, I will concede the theory is wrong, but were there scientists saying it was wrong back then that the Democratic congress, Democratic president, or people those groups appointed telling them they weren't allowed to say Nuclear Winter was bogus?
1.25.2007 8:01pm
Loki13 (mail):
I normally enjoy Prof. Adler's remarks, but while reading this, I was imagining him writing the following review:

Chris Mooney's new book The Republican War on the Balanced Budget correctly identifies some budgetary deficit issues that may have happened while the Republicans were in gevernment, but most of his charges are overwrought, if not misleading. Overall the book has three central flaws. First, Mooney has a penchant for characterizing some legitimate fiscally-based policy positions with which he disagrees as "abuses" of fiscal probity. Second, he exhibits a blind spot to the misuse and politicization of the deficit by those who espouse political agendas with which he agrees. Third and most important, Mooney pays little attention to the larger institutional context that generates political pressures on the Federal deficit. The politicization of the biddgetary process is a real problem, yet lacking any serious consideration of the broader institutional context in which such politicization occurs, Republican War ultimately fails in its diagnosis and prescriptions. The Bush Administration deserves criticism for politicizing and running up the budget deficit in many instances. Yet balanced-budget abuse is not a partisan phenomenon. There is plenty of blame to go around. Even if the Bush Administration's abuses are quantitatively or qualitatively worse than its predecessors -- and I am unconvninced on this score -- the solution to the problem of running up the deficit lies in institutional reform, rather than partisan politics.
1.25.2007 8:01pm
Colin (mail):
Michael, ER's question was about Democratic administrations. Your answer was about "Marxism in sundry manifestations," about "'continental philosophy' . . . [as] a circumlocution, etc. of a more thoroughgoing, a more rigorous and more disciplined philosophical discourse," about Pol Pot, about Ho Chi Minh, and about two paragraphs too long. If you want a substantive response, write some substance to respond to.

Lysenkoism is a bad example - if we're including Stalinism in this example, then we'd have to trawl through the far-right's historical scientific abuses. No one here is including Mengele in "The Republican War on Science." If you have to go that far afield to contribute to the discussion, then you don't have much relevant to say. (Besides, you might pause to consider who Lysenko's heirs are.) Summers is similarly a bad example. He was a Clinton official, but that was long before he famously misrepresented science. And when he was an official, he wasn't responsible for science, as are most of Mooney's examples.

wm13, I agree - some of those are pretty good examples of Democratic administrations letting us down. I think nuclear power is a great example. I don't think it's equivalent--Clinton never appointed a nuclear regulator who believed that prayer is the answer to radioactive waste--but the administrations most focused on clean energy have passed up significant chances to advance nuclear generation.
1.25.2007 8:02pm
wm13:
Elliot Reed: The head of the EPA, Carol Browner, was part of the Clinton administration. Her derision of the concept of statistical significance, and promulgation of regulations in the teeth of that concept, was a political abuse of science by the Clinton administration. Democrats don't like smokers (nasty red state rubes!) and they don't like tobacco companies, and they twist science to punish their political enemies, just like anyone else. Do you seriously claim otherwise?
1.25.2007 8:02pm
Bret (mail):
Colin: I think the summer's affair was brought up because of the way Summers was treated after his remarks, not because his comments were incorrect.

llamasex: you said: ...but were there scientists saying it was wrong back then that the Democratic congress, Democratic president, or people those groups appointed telling them they weren't allowed to say Nuclear Winter was bogus? I don't know about Nuclear Winter but there are quite a few current Democrats in congress trying to shut-up anti-AGW research. Some of the research *gasp* is even performed by real scientists.
1.25.2007 8:11pm
Richard A. (mail):
The risks of secondhand smoke are well-documented in mainstream science, including by the current Republican administration's Surgeon General.

http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_2006/index.htm

The anti-scientific bias exists entirely among those who claim that no such risks exist. They're out there with the Alar people.
1.25.2007 8:17pm
Jaybo (mail):
Let's see during the Clinton administration, we had flawed, politicized second hand smoking "research," playing fast and loose with normal statistical measurements. Also, the silicon breast debacle (science now says there was nothing wrong with the implants), which was heavily politicized by the head of the FDA, Kessler. After billions of dollars misspent and women being used as political footballs, I hardly think the Clinton Administration can duck that one.

Oh yeah, let's not forget the alar scare.
1.25.2007 8:20pm
Jaybo (mail):
Let's see during the Clinton administration, we had flawed, politicized second hand smoking "research," playing fast and loose with normal statistical measurements. Also, the silicon breast debacle (science now says there was nothing wrong with the implants), which was heavily politicized by the head of the FDA, Kessler. After billions of dollars misspent and women being used as political footballs, I hardly think the Clinton Administration can duck that one.

Oh yeah, let's not forget the alar scare.
1.25.2007 8:20pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin, already addressed that in 7:54 comment.

Too, elbowing and sniffing your way in, to declaim about substance and what constitutes the parameters of the discussion is over-ripe.
1.25.2007 8:21pm
Bret (mail):
What about the firing of Dr. William Happer? Isn't that at least as bad as what happened to Hanson? Or am I missing something?
1.25.2007 8:21pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The head of the EPA, Carol Browner, was part of the Clinton administration

And I'll raise you an Ann Gorsuch. 'Nuff said.
1.25.2007 8:30pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Adler is right the anti-Frankenfood crowd being anti science, but that isn't a Democratic party position, I don't think I've seen anyone serious (Kucinich might be anti-monsanto) in politics push this angle. I could be ignorant on this, but is there any examples of undue influence coming from elected or appointed people in this area? I would think the same thing for pesticides


I could see something having to do with endangered species counting as valid here (doubly so if ANWAR is involved), but I would put that in the par for the course arena, both sides are playing with the facts there and that is normal politics (the argument is the Bush administration has reached new heights in hitting new lows)

Asthma I haven't heard anything about. So I just don't know

Second hand smoke an assured derail. People say "hurr yeh right smokers didn't know breathing in smoke was bad for them. Idiots trying to sue to make money" then turn around and say breathing in Second hand smoke isn't bad for you. Give ME a break here :).


I don't actually understand #6. :/

with #7 I don't know what compounded conservatisms are involved in superfund estimates.

If true the Gore example seems valid and meets the criteria for Dems warping science.

but "In 1994, President Bill Clinton rejected the finding from the Embryo Research Panel of the National Institutes of Health which declared that the intentional creation of human embryos for genetic research was ethical. Clinton simply banned any federal funding for such research." You seems to be talking about what is ethical here, how anyone can scientifically determine that seems a bit of a stretch
1.25.2007 8:32pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
From Fixing Facts to the Policy

IPCC procedures say

Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.


"So the purpose of the three-month delay between the publication of the Summary for Policy-Makers and the release of the actual WG1 is to enable them to make any “necessary” adjustments to the technical report to match the policy summary."
1.25.2007 8:37pm
JonBuck (mail):
The Oct 5, 2006 issue of Nature has a News Feature on the radical environmentalists and their rejection of science titled "Green Scare".
1.25.2007 8:38pm
JK:
One distinction between Republican and Democratic abuses of science is that Republicans sometimes seem to be promoting an alternate "theory" to science itself, namely fundamentalist Christianity, while the Democrats have simply claim something was scientifically valid when it was in fact highly questionable. I'm not sure if this rational distinction or not, but I do think it has to do with why Liberals tend to be more appalled by Conservative abuses of science then vice versa. I do think there is a distinction between politicizing science, and politically rejecting science.
1.25.2007 8:51pm
frankcross (mail):
People engaged in political discourse routinely diminish science, on both sides. They may do so very honestly, as they subconsciously evaluate the research with considerable bias. But I can vouch for most of Jonathan's examples and many more are documented if you care to learn.

I'm not sure secondhand smoke is a good example, but Kip Viscusi just published an article stating that EPA's extrapolation of considerable risk from secondhand smoke was an extrapolation from eleven studies, ten of which found no statistical significance. That would be a pretty weak use of science if true.
1.25.2007 8:52pm
r78:

If we are allowed to consider the plaintiffs' bar as a "left" interest — as corporate groups are considered to be on the "right" — then there are many more examples relating to all sorts of "junk science" tort claims, some of which my co-blogger David Bernstein has documented.

You mean all those lies like the Dalkon Shield makes women infertile, that asbestos causes mesothelioma, that l-tryptophan "nutritional supplements" cause injury, and that tobacco is in any way harmful to smokers?
1.25.2007 8:53pm
Mark Field (mail):

The model in the original TTAPS study was quite primitive and, as a result, produced highly inaccurate results. Regardless, it wasn't bad science, per se.


This is reasonable, even if I disagree in part.


What was the real evil was the over-politicization of the science. Which led to all sorts of distortions and mass hysteria. Which I think is more to the point of this post.


This is also reasonable.
1.25.2007 9:03pm
Byomtov (mail):
Kip Viscusi just published an article stating that EPA's extrapolation of considerable risk from secondhand smoke was an extrapolation from eleven studies, ten of which found no statistical significance. That would be a pretty weak use of science if true.

But what did all the studies that "found no statistical significance" find? This is important. If ten studies find "statistical significance" - an arbitrary measure - at the 25% percent level, say, then it is extremely likely that there is an effect.
1.25.2007 9:15pm
Bret (mail):
Building on what JK said:

I think the difference here lies with what kind of "abuse of science" is politically advantageous to the party. For Republican's who are trying to propose a completely different alternative based on religious faith, silencing critics is the most effective form of abuse. To the Democrat's who are trying to increase the power and scope of government, blowing the facts out of proportion, launching a full-blown marketing campaign, and whipping up a scare is the abuse of choice.

Which one is worse? I'd agree that putting science in the hands of the religious right is probably better than putting it in the hands of socialists, but I'm not sure I like either.
1.25.2007 9:18pm
Byomtov (mail):
If the Bush Administration is worse than prior administrations, there are potential, non-partisan explanations. For instance, I suspect it makes a difference whether Congress is controlled by the opposing party. When it isn't, an administration may act more irresponsibly. Yet if this is the case, it is not because Republicans are in power, but because there is insufficient legislative oversight, and there is no reason to believe that unified Democratic government would behave any better.

There's a thin reed.

"Bush is terrible and the Republicans in Congress have let him get away with it. But it's non-partisan because, maybe, just maybe, a Democratic Administration with a Democratic Congress woud be just as bad. "

OK, Jonathan. Whatever.
1.25.2007 9:22pm
Justin (mail):
Kip Vicusi is a law and econ styled law professor, very conservative, who has made millions as an expert witness for industry clients. I really trust what he has to say about secondhand smoke.
1.25.2007 9:23pm
Toby:

"Larry Summers did come out of the Clinton administration"? Clinton appointed the President of Harvard? Or did Summers do something in his political role I am not aware of?

Cheese. Larry Summers went from chief economist for the World Bank to Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Dept., and then replaced Robert Rubin, as U.S. Treasury Secretary. It is hard to read historical criticism from someone who cannot recall recent history. If the point is instead, the Clinton did not interfere with economic decisions under summers, perhaps the example is merely that the Left will eat ists own happily to make any point at all.

Race is an interesting issue. The left, as exmplified above, is intent that race be merely a social construct. THis is an especially intersting assertion in the same week that the NAACP has come out strongly for heart medicine that works quite well for Blacks but not so well for Whites. In race blind studies, that is, it only works for a small percentage of the populace. The left, ever vigilant on this issue, has pressured the FDA to block aproval of this drug with its recommendation differentuial treatemtn for different groups...Strangely enough biochemistry and skin color are related.

Leaping to the other side of the fence, leftist environmentalists are always able to recognize that some small population in a single creek with any recognizable difference from any other population, even one it interbreeds with freely, is an endangered species. By this standard, Scots are a different species because of their tendency to red hair.
1.25.2007 9:25pm
therut:
The idea that gun control deceases crime. Never proved. A totally ideological idea.
1.25.2007 9:33pm
Nick H.:
I should have been more clear in my original question. I see much that I dislike from the Administration and individuals on the right concerning evolution. There isn't a comparable situation on the left.

That is to say, I don't see a single chunk of the left wing adamantly denying the Theory of Gravity in favor of the Theory of Thoreau (May his inconclusive ramblings keep us grounded forever, Amen). Perhaps one might argue that there is a systemic misapplication of statistical research on the effects of gun ownership, but I haven't come across a focused anti-science position that compares to the Evolution nonsense.

So, when asking my original question, I was wondering if I had missed something.

I found this: One distinction between Republican and Democratic abuses of science is that Republicans sometimes seem to be promoting an alternate "theory" to science itself, namely fundamentalist Christianity, while the Democrats have simply claim something was scientifically valid when it was in fact highly questionable. to be a rather enlightening quote. Thank you sir.
1.25.2007 9:37pm
Wyrmatch (mail):
It seems to me that the major differences between Mooney's arguments and those of Prof. Adler are that Mooney's "war on science" is the result of a sustained effort by the administration to silence critics that disagree with its views (particularly within the apparatus of the administration and its agencies), as well as to undermine significant agreement within the scientific community with arguments which are, at a minimum, not widely accepted. These are often notable because they are often based in a particular religious worldview (e.g., creationism) supported by the administration's base but with little true scientific support.

Adler's points simply show that political manipulation of science is not unheard of - but no one is making that argument. What Mooney is saying is that this administration has consistently and determinedly orchestrated the use of dubious science to support predetermined political positions. That, I think, is less precedented than Adler would like to believe.
1.25.2007 9:43pm
godfodder (mail):
The embryonic stem cell controversy is not an example of the "politicization" of science anymore than the abortion controversy is. Some people believe that developing embryos represent a form of individual human life, and as such, are deserving of some degree of protection from vivesection and experimentation. This is a moral dilemma/question/controversy. It actually has very little to do with "science."
1.25.2007 9:50pm
wm13:
But, wyrmatch, the Clinton administration "consistently and determinedly orchestrated of [epidemiologically] dubious science to support a predetermined political position [on secondhand smoke]." Do you deny that?
1.25.2007 10:11pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
‘Well, if by race you mean broad groupings like "black", "white", "Asian", "pacific islander", "American Indian", then yes, it is a social construct.’

False. How can race be a social construct when we can determine a person’s race with high reliability from his ancestry informative markers (AIMs)? I can take a tissue swab from anyone and send it to DNAPrint Genomics and they will tell me his continent of origin, or in the case of admixtures, the proportions of ancestry due to different races. BTW the markers used do not correspond to morphology. See A DNA Test to Determine Racial Mix, by Nicholas Wade, NYT Oct. 10, 2002.

The work of population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza also shows that humans can be classified into five major groups of continental origin corresponding to the 5 races. His work, for the most part, predates modern DNA analysis. He gets his continental maps by doing principal component analysis of genetic distance, and the map on the cover of his book, The History and Geography of Human Genes comes from the first two principal components. Other people have used different distance measures and come up with the same results.

‘A "black" man from the horn of Africa is probably as genetically different from white man from Norway as he is from another "black" man from southern Africa.’

Absolutely false. For example the Duffy null allele (FY*0) has a frequency of almost 100% in sub-Saharan Africans, but hardly occurs at all in other races. See also Risch Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease.

BTW Cavalli-Sforza in an effort to protect his career and his funding has inserted some boilerplate into his books saying "The classification into races has proved to be a futile exercise"; and that "The idea of race in the human species serves no purpose." No one familiar with his work and possessing an ounce of sense is fooled by this subterfuge. He has spent his whole career identifying races and the very cover of his books stands as a contradiction to the absurd notion that he thinks race is a mere social construct.
1.25.2007 10:11pm
anym_avey (mail):
Nobody has brought up Joycelyn Elders yet?

As Surgeon General she was in a substantial position to influence giovernment policy, and made some of the scientifically nuttiest suggestions ever to issue from that pulpit. If memory serves, she was only, and finally, canned after suggesting that masturbation be taught (the mind boggles at the thought of how) as a form of safe sex.
1.25.2007 10:27pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I can take a tissue swab from anyone and send it to DNAPrint Genomics and they will tell me his continent of origin

You rapidly switch here from "race" to continent of origin. I never said that there weren't genetic markers that would identify an individuals continent of origin, just that a term like "black" was meaningless from a genetic perspective. "Black" Africans are the most genetically diverse peoples on the face of the earth. To lump them into one race is a pointless exercise.
1.25.2007 10:28pm
frankcross (mail):
Byomtov is right, that statistical significance is arbitrary. Yet it is a pretty common convention for good reason, as random associations at a 25% probability level are so high that policy action is hard to justify absent a very big risk. Just intuitively, to me, the risk from secondhand smoke seems exaggerated. I think smokers have an 8x risk of death. Seems to me like the risk of secondhand smoke in general (save for those living with smokers) would be a tiny, tiny fraction of the exposure of someone who actually smokes, maybe a millionth, which would be a small risk increase, even assuming linearity.

Justin's ad hominem on Viscusi is just an example of the liberal attack on science, I would suppose. Instead of examining his objective and readily falsifiable or verifiable claims for their truth, he dismissed them because of the source. Which is the opposite of what science means.
1.25.2007 10:38pm
JohnAnnArbor:
There was the Clinton regulation that lowered arsenic to a really low level for drinking water right at the end of his term. When the Bush administration asked what was behind that, the predictable "news" stories started ("They want to add arsenic to the water!"). Clever, really. Disgusting anti-scientific demagogery, but nontheless cleverly executed.
1.25.2007 10:46pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Hopefully this won't get my comment deleted for being too offensive but I've been seeing the same thing on the VC for so long I can't hold back any longer. I just don't understand how a bunch of apparently fairly smart people could think it was reasonable let alone justified to always invoke the spector of the crazy leftists. Of course given almost any argumentative or policy sin some crazy on the left is going to be guilty of it. I'm pretty liberal myself but living in Berkeley I find myself constantly irate about the ridiculous, hypocritical stupidity that sometimes passes for activism around here. The current stupidity is a bunch of senior citizens sitting in oak trees to stop UC from cutting them down.

But so what? Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple decades you know that lots of wannabe revolutionaries are attracted to the left (the trappings of the 60s draw them) and they do stupid things. Just the same way you know lots of crazy, male chauvinist, racists and religious fanatics like to support the GOP. Bringing up what some Berkeley wackos do in response to a criticism of Bush's attitude to science makes about as much sense as responding to the Monica Lewinsky scandal by finding some republican voting trailer trash who buggered his sister.

Sure I can understand posting/commenting on some of what the crazy leftists do just because it's amusing or because it epitomizes the sort of stupidity you detest. I do the same thing myself but it's nothing more than venting whether I criticize idiotic born against Christians or crazy senior citizens in trees. However, the constant refrain on VC about the sins of the left makes it clear that this is much more than poking fun at the extremists on the other side. Sure their are idiots on the left, and a fair number of them make a lot of noise but this spectre of THE LEFT as some monolithic conspiracy of idiocy makes as much sense as the view in Berkeley of the right as some conspiracy of evil businessmen and repressive fundamentalists who are engaged in some bond villain style plot to control world oil and use their power to oppress women and minorities.

It seems to me a fair number of people on the VC are justifying their conservative positions to themselves by contrasting conservatives with some unrealistic idea of a massive leftist conspiracy of idiocy. I guess I can understand the temptation if it is an emotional reaction to the horrible behavior (by republican or democrat standards) of the Bush admin but I'm afraid it is more dangerous. It almost seems like the *real* argument here is 'the other guys really suck so we have to be right'.

Look left and right are just ways to divide up the world. We could do it into authoritarian and libertarian, religious and secular, luddite or technologist, puritanical or hedonistic or a hundred other ways. The fact that some people who fall onto the left side of one distinction have some stupid ideas about science has as much bearing on the danger of the Bush admin as the fact that some of the people condemning Clinton for Lewinsky had the ridiculous notion that all oral sex was bad had on the morality of Clinton's actions.

The net effect of these contentless accusations is just to create emotional furor and support while obstructing the real issues. It is a great ploy to use if you are a political candidate or operative but has no place in a reasoned debate. Worse if you buy into these emotional ploys you screw yourself over. Your political power comes from your willingness to switch to voting for the other guy if you don't like what your guy does, the more you work yourself up about how bad the other side is the more power you give away.

The fact that you can pick out some vague other side who is worse is NEVER a good argument and ALWAYS an obstruction to a worthwhile discussion. When it gets down to deciding which of several people to vote for go ahead and compare those people but there is absolutely no purpose served in arguing about which of two vaguely defined groups is 'better'.
1.25.2007 10:46pm
JohnAnnArbor:
logicnazi, often you'd have a point. However, Mr. Adler is reviewing a book in which the author contends that one side abuses science for political purposes more than the other. Mr. Adler then points out, not that the other side is worse, but that both sides are guilty. The book in question ignores inconvenient leftist science manipulation and demonizes the conservative side in genuine scientific disputes (in Mr. Adler's opinion). Finding counterexamples to the book, like many of these comments, supports Mr. Adler's point that the book's premise is somewhere between "misguided" and "garbage."

In other words, you picked precisely the wrong post for your rant.
1.25.2007 10:59pm
godfodder (mail):
And, since we're on the topic... it is hard to imagine a more politicized area in science than questions about the environment. All the way back to the un-scientific alarmism of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring through Al Gore's "shockumentary," I think it has been the Left that has led the charge of "shriek hysterically now, think later." Not exactly the scientific model I learned in school.

And this stuff has had real world consequences! For example, No Nukes led to increased dependency on oil and coal. DDT hysteria has caused untold millions of deaths from malaria. "Franken-foods" hysteria has delayed the release of food crop strains that could alleviate malnutrition for millions.

Then, of course, there is AIDS. Anyone remember "heterosexual AIDS"? The politicization of AIDS grossly distorted the flow of research dollars into various disorders. Throughout most of the 80's and 90's vast sums of money were lavished on AIDS research at the expense of much, much more common diseases. Same with breast cancer-- do you realize that roughly 10x the dollars are spent on breast cancer per case than prostate cancer? Despite the fact that deaths from prostate cancer and breast cancer are roughly the same? Ask Bill Bixby or Frank Zappa how they feel about that.

Then there is the beautiful example of breast implants. Dow Corning went bankrupt, people lost their pensions, their lives works over that little fiasco. All for what?? Completely politicized junk science that was 100% wrong. Why isn't that seen as an Enron style scandal? Trial lawyers made tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars peddling that nonsense, and put thousands of people out of work. Did anyone in the media care?

And speaking of trial lawyers, wow... don't get me started. Do you have all night to read this post?

My point is this-- the political left and the Democratic Party has politicized plenty of scientific issues, and that had very real, and some very harsh consequences for many people. If you want to hyperventilate about the verbiage found in the Grand Canyon pamphlets go ahead. I just remind you that there are people dying from mosquito-borne diseases right now that don't have to.
1.25.2007 11:01pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Alright now that I've had my little rant time for some more serious points on the actual topic.

I think the emphasis on particular examples of bad science is really missing the point. Sure these make for the good headlines to criticize Bush's science policy but disagreeing with or overriding particular scientific results is nothing new or particularly troubling. It would be better if presidents never put politics over getting the right policy but their is nothing special about ignoring what your science advisors says about an ABM device than their is in ignoring what your economic advisors say about raising the minimum wage. Yah Bush ignores a lot of science advice but as far as I'm concerned that's just another example among many of his bad policies and poor management style (too little dissent).

The serious worry about the Bush admin and republicans in general in relation to science is much harder to put in a headline but much more worrying. Ignoring/disagreeing with science will just make you look stupid but the danger bush presents to science policy is his attempts to corrupt fundamental parts of the process. It is a death of a thousand cuts many of them not published as any sort of order but just a chilling effect that you better be careful about what you say if you don't want trouble. Sure we hear about things like the earth scientists suddenly needing to get prior approval before publishing any controversial studies but that is only evidence of a subtle but very dangerous attitude that it's okay to put pressure on scientists to get the results you want.

Ignoring the scientists is one thing appointing biased unqualified individuals (lead board) or putting subtle pressure on scientists to get the right result is a whole different ball game. In fact subtle pressure is far more dangerous and effective than a flat rule censoring them which would put people's backs up. Just like corruption in your society political interference in science is the sort of thing which could prove very difficult to undo. Of course I don't have many flashy examples but this is the sense I get from the scientists who have written on the atmosphere the Bush admin is pushing.

--

anym_Avery,

This is bad science how? Can you cite me scientific studies showing that teaching masturbation leads to bad effects? I certainly know the sciences backs up the idea that masturbation is less likely to cause pregnancy or disease then sex. The truth is you just don't like the idea and think it's dumb but it has nothing to do with the relationship of the Clinton admin to science.

Anyway what we want isn't a democrat doing something stupid but a Dem undermining the scientific process itself.

--

Also on this whole race as construct thing I don't think anyone believes it in the really stupid literal way. Obviously people realize that skin color is heritable and certain sorts of heritage correlate with different skin colors and different sorts of diseases. The race is a social construct bit is an exaggerated and slightly confused way to try to say that the genetic differences within the 'races' is very large compared to the variation between the races. In other words it is just a way of saying that race isn't destiny and that it is the social way we react to race that causes many of the apparent differences.
1.25.2007 11:04pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
The race issue is far more complicated than people here are making it out to be. What seems to be clear to me is that you can identify a group by social and historical factors, call it a race, figure out what genetic material all or most of the members of that race have in common, and then say that there's a genetic component to race. But that doesn't mean that the racial groups you'd come up with if you just looked at genetics would be what we have now. That's almost certainly not true. If we selected the most important genetic differences throughout humanity and then classified people according to them, we'd get nothing like the racial groups we now have. So if you want to insist on calling race a biological category, I think you have to admit that it's an extremely insignificant category genetically speaking. In fact, what geneticists have figured out is that the only way to identify people according to genetic markers that will get over a 90% track record in identifying people's race is by using junk DNA, which is so insignificant as to be a pretty poor biological foundation for race. If races are biological categories on that basis, then we might as well treat them as social categories, since social determinants are far more important in shaping the categories to be what they are. Either way, the social and historical factors are what make the groups what they are, even if there turn out to be common genetic features, as happens in most populations anyway (at least ones that are relatively separate breeding populations, as racial groups in some places are, though that is changing rapidly in the U.S.).
1.25.2007 11:07pm
JohnAnnArbor:
godfodder's right. Think of all the trial lawyers--a Democratic constituency--that spend their lives filing bogus asbestos cases, or throwing all technical and science-types off juries and then emoting to get millions in verdicts. Like John Edwards; how many women have suffered unnecessary Caesarians because of his repeated demonisation of baby doctors whenever a child was born with cerebal palsy near him?
1.25.2007 11:20pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Here's two more examples of leftist politicization of science. First...anyone remember the controversy over spotted owls? The Norther, Pacific, and Mexican Spottel Owl are genetically the same bird, but in order to downplay their numbers they were each listed as subspecies. The Pleistocene Liberation Organization wing of environmentalism was out to get lumber companies operating in the Pacific northwest; they had to artificially shrink the number of owls from their true number to pull off their PR war.

Then there's something more recent, involving a similar issue and similar species. Enviros howled when the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl was taken off the endangered species list:

The decision to "delist" the owl was based on a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, officials said, as well as science, policy and legal considerations. The service determined that the Arizona population of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl does not contribute significantly to the species as a whole, which exists throughout Arizona, Texas and northern Mexico, said Benjamin Tuggle, acting regional director for the Southwest Region.
1.26.2007 12:11am
Greg F (mail):
It would be useful to understand relative risk if your going to assert that something is dangerous. A few examples.
Breast Cancer and Abortion:

In epidemiologic research, relative risks of less than 2 are considered small and are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias, or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident. In an editorial accompanying the study, Lynn Rosenberg, Sc.D., Boston University School of Medicine, points out that a "difference in risk of 50 percent (relative risk of 1.5) is small in epidemiologic terms [human population studies], and severely challenges our ability to distinguish whether it reflects cause and effect or whether it simply reflects bias."


The available evidence does not support a link between breast cancer and abortion. Contrast that with this:
Federal Court Decision on EPA Second hand smoke report
The record and EPA's explanations to the court make it clear that using standard methodology, EPA could not produce statistically significant results with its selected studies. Analysis conducted with a .05 significance level and 95% confidence level included relative risks of 1. Accordingly, these results did not confirm EPA's controversial a priori hypothesis. In order to confirm its hypothesis, EPA maintained its standard significance level but lowered the confidence interval to 90%. This allowed EPA to confirm its hypothesis by finding a relative risk of 1.19, albeit a very weak association.


Those with an ideological bend will tend to believe that one of the examples represents a risk while the other doesn't. One may wonder why all the studies tend to have a relative risk above 1, reasoning that, there must be an effect if all the studies tend to be above one. This could easily be accounted for in publishing bias. If one does a study that does not produce the expected results it is usually not published. A study on second hand smoke that produced a relative risk of 0.85 would most likely not get published. The authors might surmise that their results didn't make sense and attribute it to some methodological error. It is not just politics that is creating problems for science. In fact, I would argue, it is the nature of science publishing that opens the door to political abuse. There is a bias toward only publishing when the results are positive (support the hypothesis). You would be hard pressed to find published studies that come up empty. Negative results, in spite of being important to the advancement of science, have been discounted in the publish or perish world we live in. This is unfortunate as we learn as much from the experiments that fail (perhaps more) then we do from the experiments that don't.
1.26.2007 12:26am
BJGuckian (mail):
Jonathan Adler:
"There have been quite a few accusations against the Bush Administration for politically motivated abuse of science. Many of these accusations have merit,..."
::snip::
"The Bush Administration deserves criticism for politicizing and abusing science in many instances."

I applaud the even-handedness of your post; however, these two statements jump out because you don't support them.

Claiming the Bush administration has abused science in "many instances" and that many of the allegations of such "have merit," kind of demands that you at least give an impression of what are the many abuses.

You may be assuming we have read Mooney's book.

Anyway, thanks for at least pointing out that all administrations have their partisan agendas and political pandering problems. I would argue, however, that unless you provide some context against which to judge the above statements, the Bush administration has been the least agregious administration in this arena.

Again, thank you.
1.26.2007 12:33am
BJGuckian (mail):
Jonathan Adler:
"There have been quite a few accusations against the Bush Administration for politically motivated abuse of science. Many of these accusations have merit,..."
::snip::
"The Bush Administration deserves criticism for politicizing and abusing science in many instances."

I applaud the even-handedness of your post; however, these two statements jump out because you don't support them.

Claiming the Bush administration has abused science in "many instances" and that many of the allegations of such "have merit," kind of demands that you at least give an impression of what are the many abuses.

You may be assuming we have read Mooney's book.

Anyway, thanks for at least pointing out that all administrations have their partisan agendas and political pandering problems. I would argue, however, that unless you provide some context against which to judge the above statements, the Bush administration has been the least agregious administration in this arena.

Again, thank you.
1.26.2007 12:33am
A. Zarkov (mail):
J. F. Thomas:

"You rapidly switch here from "race" to continent of origin. I never said that there weren't genetic markers that would identify an individuals continent of origin, …"

Race and continent of origin are essentially synonymous. Who do you think lives, and has always lived in sub-Saharan Africa? How do you think the federal government defines being “black?” Answer: it’s based on the continent of origin.

"Black" Africans are the most genetically diverse peoples on the face of the earth. To lump them into one race is a pointless exercise.


How is it pointless? As Ricsh points out risk factors for disease vary with race. People whose origins are from sub-Saharan Africa-- people we call “black” have different responses to certain medications than people who are not black. Let’s be clear, race is more than skin pigment. For example it would be difficult to distinguish whites from Asians on skin pigment alone. It’s easy with genetic markers, or a more detailed morphology than complexion.

The reason sub-Saharan Africans are so genetically diverse is all the other races are derived from a single group that left Africa approximately 50,000 years ago. But that large diversity simply means that they form a large cluster. It does not mean that cluster overlaps the other genetic clusters. A large within cluster distance does not mean the between cluster distances are small.
1.26.2007 12:41am
Nick H.:
Throughout most of the 80's and 90's vast sums of money were lavished on AIDS research at the expense of much, much more common diseases. Same with breast cancer-- do you realize that roughly 10x the dollars are spent on breast cancer per case than prostate cancer?

Clearly, this is because breasts are much more interesting to study than prostates.
1.26.2007 1:07am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Jeremy Pierce:

“What seems to be clear to me is that you can identify a group by social and historical factors, call it a race, figure out what genetic material all or most of the members of that race have in common, and then say that there's a genetic component to race.”

It should not be clear to you because that’s not the case. The genetic markers used to identify race are not part of the genes or their control regions that play any part in appearance or behavior. Obviously these markers are indirectly correlated with the genes that do control appearance and behavior, but as yet we do not understand the connection.

“If we selected the most important genetic differences throughout humanity and then classified people according to them, we'd get nothing like the racial groups we now have.”

That’s simply not true. If you took the time to understand some population genetics and evolutionary biology you would not make such a statement. The racial clusters come from a principal component analysis (or similar statistical technique) of genetic distances.

“So if you want to insist on calling race a biological category, I think you have to admit that it's an extremely insignificant category genetically speaking.”

How is it insignificant when the different racial groups have different responses to drugs, different risk factors for disease, different IQs and differences in other important characteristics? The different human races are similar to different dog breeds. Dogs are one species in that all dogs can mate and produce fertile offspring. But no one confuses a Great Dane with a Beagle.

“If races are biological categories on that basis, then we might as well treat them as social categories, since social determinants are far more important in shaping the categories to be what they are.”

But they’re not, that’s the whole point. While the markers might come from “junk DNA,” they are still correlated with the DNA that has control significant biological attributes. Do you think it’s simply a coincidence that the clusters that come from the so-called “junk DNA” match the continental origins of the different races?
1.26.2007 1:11am
SP:
Unfortunately, 90% of these atrocities supposedly committed by Bush don't amount to much - oh my gosh, someone at NASA called the Big Bang a "theory" (which, BTW, it technically is). This is terrible!
1.26.2007 1:18am
quaker:
Is this a contest? Okay, here's my entry...

Paul Ehrlich. The Population Bomb. &etc.

"the battle to feed all of humanity is over... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."

"India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980"

Paul Ehrlich, 1968

And this guy keeps winning awards from lefty societies.
1.26.2007 2:11am
Huh:

In 1994, President Bill Clinton rejected the finding from the Embryo Research Panel of the National Institutes of Health which declared that the intentional creation of human embryos for genetic research was ethical. Clinton simply banned any federal funding for such research.


On what planet is the protection of embryos on the leftist agenda?
1.26.2007 2:30am
godfodder (mail):
SP:
Yes. When Bush "sins" against science, a few verbs and nouns get switched around in a press release.

When the Left "sins" against science, corporations go bankrupt, progress grinds to a halt, huge sums of money are wasted on symbolic gestures, and millions of lives get jeopardized.

Hmmm. I wish I were kidding. Literally millions of people have died because DDT was needlessly and foolishly banned. Millions more are at risk from starvation/malnutrition that could be addressed with genetically modified crops.

Genetically modified crops are not some far off, speculative, stemcell-ish product-- they exist here, now. Yellow rice (vitamin A enriched) could save the eyesight of hundreds of thousands of people.

Now, no doubt someone is going to throw out the stem cell research argument. To this I can only point out once more that Bush's opposition to embryonic stem cell research is not a scientific position. It is a moral position. You may agree or disagree with him, but you can't condemn him as unscientific, or for politicizing science. Why? Because the question of whether or not it is "acceptable" to experiment on human embryos (or whether or not embryos qualify as human) is not a question that science can answer. Bush is not saying that stem cell research is too dangerous, or won't work, or shows that Democrats are "bad people," or greedy. That would be politicizing it. In fact, I don't recall him making any kind of political hay out of the stem cell issue. Yes, certain Republicans agree with him on the issue, but what does that prove? He's supposed to take a stance that absolutely no Republicans agree with?
1.26.2007 2:40am
TokyoTom (mail):
I approach Jonathan's post as someone from the disillusioned right.

The Administration, backed by majorities in both houses of Congress, had every opportunity to address some of institutional problems relating to science that Jonathan has correctly mentioned, such as the problems with overly conservative and inconsistent risk calculations that Stephen Breyer noted in his book "Breaking the Vicious Circle". That they chose instead to set aside their previously professed principles to use this precious opportunity for narrow partisan purposes, to reward themselves and corporate supporters with long-unseen levels of pork-barrel spending and misuse of legislative and regulatory authority, aggrandize power to the executive, trample our civil liberties and to lead the country into unnecessary, unwarranted, stragically counter-counterproductive, poorly planned and executed and fabulously expensive wars is both undeniable and unforgiveable.

When the President, Cheney and the rest of their team took office, a virtual iron curtain descended on the White House, the "truth" was viewed as a political construct - with the undisclosed end justifying every means - and the public's right to know essentially suspended. The so-called "war on science" that Mooney addresses is just one small and indicative piece of this wholly tawdry and in many ways criminal affair, which leaves out the single biggest example, which was the mendacity, obfuscation and deliberate refusal to collect important but inconvenient information that brought us the Iraq war.

Yes, Democrats are politicians too, and have also misgoverned, both with private lucre aforethought and through thick-skulled and self-righteous but self-serving "good intentions". But never as famously and disastrously as this Administration and its compliant Congress.

Nice try, Jonathan. If you were sincerely interested in good government, why don't you start by tearing this Administration to shreds? Is is only by examining how things have gone really, really wrong that we can figure out how to try to fix things.

Oh, and as for Jonathan's example of Democratic "absue of science", excuse me for failing to understand how a decision by Clinton not to ask for federal funding for a line of research that a panel found to be "ethical" is an abuse either of science or ethics. It was simply a political decision, based on ethics and relative priorities, about where taxpayer dollars should be spent, and a decision that probably displeased many of his supporters but satisified a number of constituencies on the right.
1.26.2007 3:06am
Michael Kochin (mail) (www):
The notion of politicization at work here seems to me problematic.

1. In its self-understanding modern science claims that it can show us what we can do. Modern science therefore does not claim to provide complete answers on what we should do. So, as others here have pointed out, efforts by Clinton and Bush to defund or even suppress research on human embryos and stem cells cannot be regarded as politicization any more (or any less) then efforts to fund or promote such research.

2. We cannot listen just to scientists about what scientific research is worthwhile because we have other priorities too, and on the relative merits of these scientists ass such do not have much useful to say. Does having a Ph.D. in molecular biology really help you to decide whether to spend an extra $50,000,000 on cancer research or on bribes to Pakistani tribesmen to help win them over to betraying Osama Bin Laden?

3. Just because what a scientist says is true, doesn't mean we are better off for hearing it.

4. Since scientists don't always get things right, it seems unlikely (a priori) and is in fact false (as demonstrated by research in the history of science) that the political control of the conduct of scientific research could produce only mistakes. If you don't believe me, go read Feyerabend. But do so only if you are willing to read him with an open mind.

So in sum, what some call the politicization of science, I, with Feyerabend, call the democratic control of science. Does the democratic control of science sometimes cause the promulgation of errors? Certainly. But the democratic control of foreign policy also produces errors, but that is not in itself a sufficient reason to give it up.
1.26.2007 3:27am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I find it interesting that none of Adler's defenders have come up with a single instance of abuse of science by a Democratic administration.
The minimum wage.
1.26.2007 3:37am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Kochin,

Whether or not science makes mistakes is besides the point. The question is whether we should expect the probability of error to be higher when influenced by politicians.

Now it's been awhile since I read Feyerabend (and excerpts at that) but I'm surprised to hear him talking about political control of science in the way that is relevent to you. Of course science is ultimately political in the sense that scientists themselves are political and politics does much to determine the consensus view but this isn't the same as saying that we would be just as good if we had politicians as in non-scientists get involved. If Feyerabend actually says the later is good (and not just in a setting goals sort of way) I would be very curious to hear why he thinks so.
1.26.2007 4:57am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Kochin,

To be clear I assume when you are suggesting the political control of science to be a good thing you mean political involvement in the actual conduct of the research not merely the setting of goals and priorities. While I personally would rather trust a randomly selected scientist to be president than an elected politician these decisions do need to be made by people whose field of view is much broader than that of the working scientist. Your point is well put that the practicing biologist is not the person to weigh the pros and cons of science or foreign diplomacy.

If you just meant the other point I agree that this sort of political involvement is likely important but that doesn't mean that some sorts of involvement are not improper.
1.26.2007 5:04am
Ragerz (mail):
David M. Nieporent,

Economics is not a science. First of all. Second, whether or not to raise the minimum wage is a normative issue. I think that Adler makes a valid point when he writes:

"A sixth would be claims that the 'precautionary principle' is a 'science-based' approach to risk, when it acutally reflects a normative policy judgment about how to weigh and evaluate risks."

Liberals who pretend that the precautionary principle is not normative are like economists who think maximizing based on a particular definition of social welfare is not normative. Both are wrong.
1.26.2007 6:00am
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Can you please provide one example of someone saying this?' (that women who claim to have been raped are never lying).

Why, yes, Elliott, I can: Wendy Murphy. And as of this week, she has a government sponsor, the CDC.

Dunno what that tells us about Bush rightwing meddling in science, though somehow if the original claim (women who claim rape never lie) were presented to a random group who were asked whether it is a leftist or rightist concept, I doubt 'rightist' would win.
1.26.2007 6:09am
Justin (mail):
As mentioned by many others, there's a difference between good-faithed, but ultimately incorrect science, and bad faith science. Pointing out to when some liberal scientists happened to be wrong (with nowhere near the support of concepts like global warming and evolution), does nothing to disprove Mooney's point, or justify Adler's absurd equivocence.
1.26.2007 8:01am
Justin (mail):
BTW, a google search of "wendy murphy" and "never lie" comes up with a ton of uncited statements by conservatives that Wendy Murphy believes this, and zero statements by Wendy Murphy stating that Wendy Murphy believes this, which makes me think this is an exaggeration of her claim.
1.26.2007 8:04am
Justin (mail):
"Justin's ad hominem on Viscusi"

There's a misconception that an ad hominen attack is never permissible. However, I was responding to an ab hominen position - that second hand smoke is not bad for you BECAUSE KIP VICUSI SAYS IT ISN'T. In that situation, when one does not have the time or inclination to properly refute the argument behind the ab hominen position, an ad hominen attack is perfectly appropriate.
1.26.2007 8:08am
Justin (mail):
"The minimum wage"

How are the Democrats attacking science on this? You'd first of all have to prove that economics is a science, and then you'd second have to prove that economic research disproves your argument. Once you get past high-school level Econ 101 "supply and demand"/"marginal utility" economics based on false premises, and into the realm of empirical economics, studies have uniformly either been neutral to, or supportive of, increased minimum wages, at least in developed nations, and particularly the United States.
1.26.2007 8:12am
Some Anonymous Coward:
Focus people, we are asking for examples of Democratic controlled governments bending science to justify its policies or appeal to its base

The Center for Disease Control funded research designed to promote gun control, and promoted the whole "guns as a public health issue" meme.

See "Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda" and Guns in the Medical Literature: A Failure of Peer Review" for details. This was a systematic effort to create factoids (or falseoids) to promote a political agenda.



Adler's original post at the top also mentions the firing of William Happer for dissenting from Al Gore's beliefs.
1.26.2007 8:26am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
The reason I included Ron Bailey's mention of the Clinton Administration's rejection of the findings of the Embryo Research Panel of the National Institutes of Health is because this sort of action -- explicitly rejecting the findings of an expert advoisory panel -- is often pointed to as an example of the Bush Administration's hostility to scientific expertise. I agree with those posters who suggest that the entire episode (like the debate over stem cell research, and many others) should be viewed as a debate over normative policy positions, rather than a debate over science. However, if the standard against with the Bush Administration is to be udged includes the rejection of advisory group findings, then we should evaluate other administrations by the same measure.

I am sorry I was not more clear on this point.

JHA
1.26.2007 8:35am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Another quick note: If you think I have not adequately addressed a rather obvious point, or sufficiently supported my statements in teh above post, I think there is a good chance your specific concerns will be addressed in the review itself. For instance, the review cites examples of Bush Administration abuses, clarifies the scope of Mooney's arguments, examines several of his specific claims in the book, and so on.

JHA
1.26.2007 8:37am
T. Musky:
An interesting perspective on the politicization of the Global Warming debates is provided by hurricane expert, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, in a just published article in Boston Review, "Phaeton’s Reins, The human hand in climate change".

See the last page, starting at Science, politics, and the media
1.26.2007 8:38am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Hmmm. I wish I were kidding. Literally millions of people have died because DDT was needlessly and foolishly banned.

Guess what, DDT wasn't "needlessly and foolishly banned". While the toxicity of DDT to humans may be minimal, the effects of DDT, due to its persistence and bioaccumulative effect, on the top of the food chain was devastating. It was wiping out birds of prey through weakening their shells. The banning of area application of DDT is absolutely necessary. The use of spot application inside dwellings or infusion of mosquito netting with DDT is another matter. Of course if the pharmaceutical industry had spent a tenth of the money on new anti-malarials that they spend on developing erectile dysfunction drugs, maybe the application of pesticides wouldn't be necessary at all.
1.26.2007 9:16am
TokyoTom (mail):
Jonathan, Clinton rejected the findings of a panel on the ETHICS of a scientific procedure; he did not reject a SCIENTIFIC recommendation. I hope you can see the difference.

In addition, this was not a decision that affected how to implement or alter a legislative mandate, but a decision about whether to ask Congress for money.

FInally, as I noted, this was not a decision that at all pandered to his constituents; if anything, it went against his parisan interests.

In sum, this example is irrelevant to the point you're trying to make about whether administrations of other stripes also abuse the science. Undoubtedly they do, but much falls into a shared pattern that Breyer pointed out of poor risk analysis. Democratic administrations clearly have not abused science at anywhere near the magnitude we have seen under the Bush administrations.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture (as I noted above), one cannot fail to be dismayed at the lack of regard with which this administration holds either the truth or the American people. Democrats have also deceived us into wars of course, but what we have been experiencing under Bush and Cheney is truly historic.
1.26.2007 9:26am
K Parker (mail):
J. F. Thomas,
hopefully from a jail cell
Hope you enjoy your civil war! Where else do you think the criminalization of political opposition will lead?
1.26.2007 10:40am
Houston Lawyer:
Millions of people die every year because of the unavailability of DDT, the cheapest and most effective means of fighting malaria. Also millions of people starve every year because of the Lefties' fear of genetically modified grains, which are superior to their unmodified counterparts. Hurricane Katrina is blamed on the Bush administration because it did not adopt the Kyoto treaty. But worst of all, strippers have been forced to use saline breast implants instead of the more natural silicone brands.

I don't believe that the Bush administration's science issues have caused any comparable loss of life.
1.26.2007 10:47am
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov:

The genetic markers used to identify race are not part of the genes or their control regions that play any part in appearance or behavior. Obviously these markers are indirectly correlated with the genes that do control appearance and behavior, but as yet we do not understand the connection.

Right, but it's not necessarily because there's even a strong connection. It might just be that they both happened to be passed down through the generations and both failed to be passed down in other groups. Perhaps the skin color, bone structure, and hair type genes got separated out in different populations before or after the junk DNA appeared that they're now using to differentiate the groups, but enough intra-population breeding without enough mixing has preserved them relatively in tandem even though they're not connected. I admit that it's possible that they're connected in a closer way, but there's no reason to assume that they are.

There's an extremely small amount of genetic material common to each racial group in comparison with what's common to humanity as a whole. It's quite a bit less than what's in common to sub-species in other species. That's generally why the scientific consensus until a few years ago was simply that race cannot be grounded in science. Now some people are realizing some gaps in the argument for that conclusion, but that doesn't make the genetic differences between racial groups extremely large. It just means that small differences are still small differences and not nothing.

That’s simply not true. If you took the time to understand some population genetics and evolutionary biology you would not make such a statement. The racial clusters come from a principal component analysis (or similar statistical technique) of genetic distances.

I'm not sure why you think that's contrary to what I said. What I said is that if you did that you wouldn't get the concluding groups to line up with the groups we've come up with on historical and social terms. For example, black aboriginal Australians are genetically closer to Asians than they are to black Africans. But the socially and historically determined racial categories classify them both as black. Some Asians are closer to Africans genetically than they are to other Asians, but we call them all Asians as if that's one race. The historically and socially determined categories in the popular mindset just aren't going to match up to whatever genetic populations you might call races.

How is it insignificant when the different racial groups have different responses to drugs, different risk factors for disease, different IQs and differences in other important characteristics? The different human races are similar to different dog breeds. Dogs are one species in that all dogs can mate and produce fertile offspring. But no one confuses a Great Dane with a Beagle.

It's insignificant if the only differences you can come up with are small health differences. IQ is not biologically determined at all, never mind in any way corresponding to race. Read Thomas Sowell on that. It's true that intelligence potential has some genetic basis, but genetic potential doesn't determine how intelligent someone is. It's cultural and societal factors that determine how much of that gets developed, and that's the vast majority of differences observed in different genetic populations. This is demonstrated by the fact that relative IQs of genetically isolated populations change dramatically over time (e.g. Jews in the U.S. used to be really low and now are really high, and African Americans used to be much lower in comparison to the general population compared to now, more than intermarriage would explain).

The dog breed analogy fails because of what I've already said. The genetic differences between dog breeds are amazingly huge compared to racial genetic differences in humans.
1.26.2007 11:04am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Yes. When Bush "sins" against science, a few verbs and nouns get switched around in a press release.

When the Left "sins" against science, corporations go bankrupt, progress grinds to a halt, huge sums of money are wasted on symbolic gestures, and millions of lives get jeopardized.


Well put.
1.26.2007 11:11am
SP:
I'm still waiting for a substantive example of the Bush "War on Science." No, telling me someone appointed one of their buddies to a post and that buddy doesn't believe in evolution won't cut it. I need actual examples of how scientific research has been hurt...
1.26.2007 11:27am
Eli Rabett (www):
Let us, as they say, inject a few facts into this:

Second hand smoke:

The six major conclusions of the 2006 Surgeon General's Report on second hand smoke are:

* Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite substantial progress in tobacco control.

* Secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke.

* Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma. Smoking by parents causes respiratory symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.

* Exposure of adults to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer.

* The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

* Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.

DDT: A WHO FAQ on DDT use

DDT has never been banned worldwide for disease vector control, it has been banned for agricultural use. Widespread use rapidly lead to resistance development among the insects, thus DDT (and almost all other insecticides) are self-limiting.,
1.26.2007 11:32am
SP:
Just helpful start:

-have funds been misappropriated for dubious research?

-has Bush cut back funding in science?

-has funding been denied for political reasons?

The "War on Science" reminds of right wingers who would insist that there was a penis ornament on the Clinton's Christmas tree. People will assume anything about the party that they hate.
1.26.2007 11:36am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Rabett --

The Surgeon General's report says nothing to counter my citation of the EPA's secondhand smoke report as a politically motivated abuse of science. This report, as a I noted, a federal court found had been prepared to reach a predetermined result.

Second, as I have pointed out to you before in another comment thread, some of the claims in the executive summary of the Surgeon General's report are not supported by a single study to which the report cites -- not one. While there is little doubt about the health effects of chronic exposure to secondhand smoke, the SG's report does not establish that there is no safe level of exposure, as it claims.

Those are facts.

JHA
1.26.2007 12:22pm
frankcross (mail):

However, I was responding to an ab hominen position - that second hand smoke is not bad for you BECAUSE KIP VICUSI SAYS IT ISN'T.


This is a false statement, you were responding to a position that ten of eleven studies on secondhand smoke showed no statistically significant association and you did so with an ad hominem on the person who reported that.
1.26.2007 12:28pm
Byomtov (mail):
Frankcross,

Yet it is a pretty common convention for good reason, as random associations at a 25% probability level are so high that policy action is hard to justify absent a very big risk

I did not intend to suggest that we ought to regard a 25% "significance level" in a single study as meaningful. The point I was trying to make was that if there are ten studies, all of which show 25% significance levels, it is extremely likely there is an effect, because the significance of the combined study - a "meta-analysis," if you will - is going to be very high.

For example, suppose you are testing the idea that a coin is weighted towards heads. You flip it ten times and get seven heads. That is not significant at conventioal levels. But do that experiment ten times, and get seven heads each time and the result is overwhelmingly significant. That's the kind of thing I was getting at.
1.26.2007 12:29pm
Byomtov (mail):
By "combined study" in my first paragraph I mean the aggregate of the data from all ten studies.
1.26.2007 1:00pm
Greg F (mail):
The point I was trying to make was that if there are ten studies, all of which show 25% significance levels, it is extremely likely there is an effect...


Wrong. This will not account for publishing bias.
1.26.2007 1:28pm
frankcross (mail):
That's right Byomtov, though you would have to consider a lot of other info. But if the relationship is not statistically significant in an individual study, that means either the sample size was very small and/or the effect size was not great. It's only the effect size I'm questioning

It's implausible that secondhand smoke is harmless, we know it kills the smoker. For the reasons I gave above, though, I find it implausible that it is a major public health problem, because of relative exposure levels.
1.26.2007 2:11pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The "War on Science" reminds of right wingers who would insist that there was a penis ornament on the Clinton's Christmas tree. People will assume anything about the party that they hate.


I thought that that their Christmas tree was supposed to be decorated with paraphernalia for smoking crack. ;)

Seriously though, your point is dead-on.
1.26.2007 3:32pm
Justin (mail):
No, I was responding to a poin that Kip Vicusi stated that "ten of eleven studies on secondhand smoke showed no statistically significant association." Because the person I responded to did not cite to Kip Vicusi, the eleven studies, or the reasoning behind Kip Vicusi's finding (and note that this is a finding by Kip Vicusi, not a finding by the 10 of 11 studies - otherwise, the original poster would have just said "10 of 11 studies have shown...," responding to the facts is impossible, because it is true by the ipse dixit of Kip Vicusi (via the OP's reliance on hearsay), rather than by an explanation of the evidence.
1.26.2007 4:19pm
Justin (mail):
PS Just out of frustration, I located Vicusi's statement:

"The EPA’s assessment of the lung cancer risks was based on a review of 11 studies of family members exposed to ETS. Only one of the 11 studies indicated statistically significant effects at the 10 percent confidence level, and in some cases the influences were in the "wrong" direction."

That's it. No citation, no explanation. Just his ipse dixit that the EPA couldn't tell that the 11 studies it relied on said what Kip Vicusi thinks they said. Sure, if we *presuppose* that Vicusi's assertion is correct, then we're in a different situation. But from a rational standpoint, it seems like an absurd thing to *assume* is true.
1.26.2007 4:27pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Economics is not a science.
That very notion is part of the liberal war on science.
First of all. Second, whether or not to raise the minimum wage is a normative issue.
Indeed. But whether or not the minimum wage costs jobs is not.
1.26.2007 4:34pm
Justin (mail):
From wikipedia:

Is economics a science?
One of the marks of a science is the use of the scientific method and the ability to establish hypothesis and make predictions which can then be tested with data and where the results are repeatable by others. Unlike some natural scientists and in a way similar to what happens in other social sciences, it is difficult for economists to conduct formal experiments due to moral and practical issues involved with human subjects. Experimentation, however, has been conducted by social scientists. The sub-fields of experimental economics and consumer behaviour focus on conducting experiments using human subjects. The sub-field of econometrics focuses on testing hypotheses when data are not generated via controlled experimentation.

The status of social sciences as an empirical science has been a matter of debate in the 20th century, see Positivism dispute.[12]. Unlike the natural sciences, economics yields no natural laws or universal constants due to its reliance on non-physical arguments, so this has led some critics like Dick Richardson, Ph.D. - Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, to argue economics is not a science.[13] It is also argued by many, that difficulty in proving many hypotheses can occur in the natural sciences too, not only in the social sciences.[attribution needed] In general, economists reply that while this aspect presents serious difficulties, they do in fact test their hypotheses using statistical methods such as econometrics and data generated in the real world.[14] Some have argued that difficulty in this estimation implies economics is not a soft science, the field simply lacks the controllability of other sciences, and thus has greater difficulty in gathering and establishing evidence.[attribution needed] The field of experimental economics has seen efforts to test at least some predictions of economic theories in a simulated laboratory setting – an endeavour which earned Vernon Smith the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2002.

-

Economics is a combination of social theory that is not a science, and statistics. Statistics, admittedly, is a science.
1.26.2007 4:52pm
Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
It turns out that the left’s antiscience bias is exhibited in precisely the same domain as that in which Bush has been so heavily criticized and even ridiculed — embryonic stem cell research — not in the U.S. (thus far) but in Europe.

The British scientific journal Nature reports that Greenpeace (not noted as a conservative bastion) last month got a German court to knock out a patent that researchers had been awarded, which anticipates regrowing nervous tissue from stem cells — clearly an important medical development — because the cell line (originating before 2002, as specifically allowed by German law) may have derived from the death of an embryo.

This is basically exactly the same policy, instigated by Greenpeace and promulgated via judicial fiat, as the much-maligned denial of Federal financing by the Bush administration with regard to embryonic stem cell research — except that in the administration’s case, the government is merely withholding Federal funding, not demolishing researchers’ patents on which their further progress depends.  The researcher’s work — despite being supported by a grant from the German ministry of research — was even labeled by the court as “contrary to public order”; a black mark the scientist will now have to live down.

The story was reported in the December 14, 2006 issue of Nature (vol. 444, p. 799), in a news item by Alison Abbott titled “Stem-cell technique ‘contrary to public order.’”  Since the piece is unavailable except via subscription, for folks’ convenience here’s how it reads:
MUNICH
A German court has revoked a patent on a method for generating a class of human embryonic stem cells.  The 5 December ruling is seen as yet another setback for stem-cell research in a nation where it is already constrained by tight regulation.

The federal patent court in Munich heard a charge brought by Greenpeace that the patent, held by University of Bonn neurobiologist Oliver Brüstle on a way to generate precursor nerve cells, was ‘contrary to public order’.  The environmental group argued that the derivation of the cell lines in question had involved the destruction of human embryos, which breaches guidelines issued by the German Patent Office.  The judge, Eva-Maria Schermer, quickly ruled in Greenpeace’s favour — much to the dismay of Brüstle, who arrived in court with three bodyguards to protect him.

The ruling will become binding in a few weeks.  It was made in the wake of a public call by Germany’s largest research agency, the DFG, for a relaxation of stem-cell laws, which are stricter than those of many other European countries (see Nature 444, 253; 2006).

Brüstle says he will now appeal to the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe, arguing that the ruling goes beyond German law, which allows the use of human embryonic stem-cells lines created before 2002.  Just last year, the ministry of research awarded Brüstle a grant for work with human embryonic stem cells derived before 2002.  He points out that the ministry stipulates that its grantees should attempt to patent inventions from projects that it supports.

But a ruling by the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe could take years.  “In the meantime, it is very hard on me and my family,” Brustle [sic] says, “particularly for kids whose father has been accused of doing things so bad they are considered to be against public order.”
1.26.2007 4:54pm
Greg F (mail):
frankcross wrote:
It's implausible that secondhand smoke is harmless, we know it kills the smoker.

The logic of your assertion is faulty. Basic law of toxicology is it's the dose that makes the poison. Everything is toxic in the right dose, even water.

The contest awarded a Nintendo console to the person who could avoid urinating (or vomiting) after drinking a large quantity of water. Strange finished second among 18 contestants, and complained that her head hurt and she felt lightheaded when dropping out of the contest. Hours later, she died of water intoxication, according to the Sacramento County coroner.


Dose response is not linear, there is a threshold below which there will be no effects.
Justin wrote:
Statistics, admittedly, is a science.

Statistics is not science anymore then calculus or algebra are science, they are math. Math is the language of science, it is not science. Statistics can only show correlation, not causation. Correlation does not equal causation.
1.26.2007 6:19pm
Well Armed Coward:
R78, you are just being an idiot.

Replying to this from some chap:

If we are allowed to consider the plaintiffs' bar as a "left" interest — as corporate groups are considered to be on the "right" — then there are many more examples relating to all sorts of "junk science" tort claims, some of which my co-blogger David Bernstein has documented.

YOU WROTE:

You mean all those lies like the Dalkon Shield makes women infertile, that asbestos causes mesothelioma, that l-tryptophan "nutritional supplements" cause injury, and that tobacco is in any way harmful to smokers?

Congratulations. I am fully prepared to award you a honorary doctorate from the Institute of Anancephalic Studies at Duke.
I am sure I can get 88 faculty members to sign this important citation.

This award is for your insightful assertion that people who dislike junk science are prepared to engage in the same shoddy insights as you, along with a fair number of PI lawyers.

In a word, your examples "stink". For instance, your L-tryptophan health supplement example. Although I left this issue some time ago, the eosinophilic myalgia (sometimes fatal) that occurred in a couple of thousand people was almost exclusively related to tryptophan from a single Japanese supplier, Showa Denko. There seems little evidence that the tryp made from fermentation in a standardized way presents this very nasty threat. The Showa Denko synthetic reagent was contaminated with a number of other compounds, e.g.(phenylamino)alanine; 2-(3-indolylmethyl)-L-tryptophan; 1,1'-ethylidenebis(tryptophan) [case-associated] and a bunch of other compounds as well: 3-carboxy-1-methyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-beta-carboline; 3-carboxy-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-beta- carboline; 2-(2,3 dihydroxy-1-[3-indolyl]propyl)-L- tryptophan; and some isomers of 3-carboxy-1-[3-indolyl- methyl] 1,2,3,4 -tetrahydro-beta-carboline. I'm sure you know all this, which makes your inference even more unfair (heh).
Fascinating issue, because some of our best leads in understanding cell physiology come from these unfortunate synthetic events. But it is never a good idea to eat supplements, kids! You'll be fine if you just eat only things that will spoil (LSD was discovered through the effects on frogs of spoiled bread), so eat hem before they do. Also, remember that the poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese (a form of spoiled milk)....so drink beer, which is a form of spoiled barley soup, which at least provides entertaining belches and indefensible, deafening farts (like your ideas), in place of rotten breath.
As for tobbacco, the statement that there is no evidence that there is a safe level of secondhand smoke a.k.a. the Sturgeon Gen'ral, is disingenuous because there is no evidence that there is not such a level (SHOW ME THE DATA, which the SG hasn't).

As a matter of fact, activated DNA repair mechanisms may be behind studies that imply that a few ciggies a day falls off the edge of the significance table (interesting, but no reason to start smoking...it's a filthy habit so see below for a real reason....sort of....).

There is some evidence that smokers with Parkinson's do better than the non-smoker Parkies and the same may be true for some other neuro and inflammatory illnesses. Treatment with nicotine patches is starting to occur. This may be related to the bodywide distribution of "nicotinic Acetycholine receptors" that have a large influence by modulating synaptic transmission, also in neuronal depolarization and transmission modulation, and in the modulation/downregulation of inflammatory cytokines like TNF, etc., and interleukins. Parkinson's patients are being treated with nicotine patches, for instance. Hmmmm, makes you think, right? Maybe we could put one of those (o.k. several) on your fevered crainium.

But I digress.....

Asbestos! Most forms are not related to mesothelioma,
but the panic and self-serving/self-dealing activities of grant-seekers and their fear mongering sycophants led to phenomenal irrational behavior and money wasting. Same with lead &lead paint and now comes the crowning achievement of the First Church of the Whack-Job Environmentally Righteous Believers, which is Global Warming (hopefully of the ol' bank account).

..and don't get me started on dioxin, the Scam of Scams worshipped to this day on the altar (and in cashbox) of the First Church and the loons at CDC.

The bald fact is that leftist "environmentalists" are "believers" with all the same baggage as extremist religious zealots, whether Christian (like Bush) or otherwise. You seem to be right up there with them, using the findings on specific (injury) torts to try to dismiss legitimate objections to "junk science".

Anyway, congratulations on your impressive rationality.

Say, you don't work for Time, do you?
1.26.2007 6:26pm
Well Armed Coward:
R78, you are just being an idiot.

Replying to this from some chap:

"If we are allowed to consider the plaintiffs' bar as a "left" interest — as corporate groups are considered to be on the "right" — then there are many more examples relating to all sorts of "junk science" tort claims, some of which my co-blogger David Bernstein has documented."

YOU WROTE:
"You mean all those lies like the Dalkon Shield makes women infertile, that asbestos causes mesothelioma, that l-tryptophan "nutritional supplements" cause injury, and that tobacco is in any way harmful to smokers?"

***********************************************

Congratulations, R78! I am fully prepared to award you a honorary doctorate from the Institute of Anancephalic Studies at Duke.
I am sure I can get 88 faculty members to sign this important citation.

This award is for your insightful assertion that people who dislike junk science are prepared to engage in the same shoddy insights as you, along with a fair number of PI lawyers.

In a word, your examples "stink". For instance, your L-tryptophan health supplement example. Although I left this issue some time ago, the eosinophilic myalgia (sometimes fatal) that occurred in a couple of thousand people was almost exclusively related to tryptophan from a single Japanese supplier, Showa Denko. There seems little evidence that the tryp made from fermentation in a standardized way presents this very nasty threat. The Showa Denko synthetic reagent was contaminated with a number of other compounds, e.g.(phenylamino)alanine; 2-(3-indolylmethyl)-L-tryptophan; 1,1'-ethylidenebis(tryptophan) [case-associated] and a bunch of other compounds as well: 3-carboxy-1-methyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-beta-carboline; 3-carboxy-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-beta- carboline; 2-(2,3 dihydroxy-1-[3-indolyl]propyl)-L- tryptophan; and some isomers of 3-carboxy-1-[3-indolyl- methyl] 1,2,3,4 -tetrahydro-beta-carboline. I'm sure you know all this, which makes your inference even more unfair (heh).
Fascinating issue, because some of our best leads in understanding cell physiology come from these unfortunate synthetic events. But it is never a good idea to eat supplements, kids! You'll be fine if you just eat only things that will spoil (LSD was discovered through the effects on frogs of spoiled bread), so eat hem before they do. Also, remember that the poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese (a form of spoiled milk)....so drink beer, which is a form of spoiled barley soup, which at least provides entertaining belches and indefensible, deafening farts (like your ideas), in place of rotten breath.
As for tobbacco, the statement that there is no evidence that there is a safe level of secondhand smoke a.k.a. the Sturgeon Gen'ral, is disingenuous because there is no evidence that there is not such a level (SHOW ME THE DATA, which the SG hasn't).

As a matter of fact, activated DNA repair mechanisms may be behind studies that imply that a few ciggies a day falls off the edge of the significance table (interesting, but no reason to start smoking...it's a filthy habit so see below for a real reason....sort of....).

There is some evidence that smokers with Parkinson's do better than the non-smoker Parkies and the same may be true for some other neuro and inflammatory illnesses. Treatment with nicotine patches is starting to occur. This may be related to the bodywide distribution of "nicotinic Acetycholine receptors" that have a large influence by modulating synaptic transmission, also in neuronal depolarization and transmission modulation, and in the modulation/downregulation of inflammatory cytokines like TNF, etc., and interleukins. Parkinson's patients are being treated with nicotine patches, for instance. Hmmmm, makes you think, right? Maybe we could put one of those (o.k. several) on your fevered crainium.

But I digress.....

Asbestos! Most forms are not related to mesothelioma,
but the panic and self-serving/self-dealing activities of grant-seekers and their fear mongering sycophants led to phenomenal irrational behavior and money wasting. Same with lead &lead paint and now comes the crowning achievement of the First Church of the Whack-Job Environmentally Righteous Believers, which is Global Warming (hopefully of the ol' bank account).

..and don't get me started on dioxin, the Scam of Scams worshipped to this day on the altar (and in cashbox) of the First Church and the loons at CDC.

The bald fact is that leftist "environmentalists" are "believers" with all the same baggage as extremist religious zealots, whether Christian (like Bush) or otherwise. You seem to be right up there with them, using the findings on specific (injury) torts to try to dismiss legitimate objections to "junk science".

Anyway, congratulations on your impressive rationality.

Say, you don't work for Time, do you?
1.26.2007 6:41pm
markm (mail):

oh my gosh, someone at NASA called the Big Bang a "theory" (which, BTW, it technically is). This is terrible!

That NASA put someone who has so little scientific education as not to understand what "theory" means in science in a position to dictate what goes into their scientific publications is indeed terrible. But I doubt that George Bush has much to do with NASA hiring decisions. Most likely they hired someone with a background in journalism for this job in publications - which sounds sensible but really is a mistake, because most journalists are abysmally ignorant about science and math. So I think that all that shows in the end is that American schools do a very poor job of teaching the basics of science to non-science majors, and NASA administration is far from omniscient.

I regularly read several magazines about my field of engineering. Even publications as specialized as this can't find enough scientifically literate reporters and editors. I've even seen articles that taken at face value say a new product violates the first law of Thermodynamics - whether they're uncritically repeating false claims in a company press release (written by marketing) or have totally mangled the story is often impossible to determine, but either way, a report that a perpetual motion machine has been invented should have received some extra scrutiny!
1.28.2007 8:34am
Aleks:
Re: I'd say that those on the left who say that "race is a social construct

The way race is often defined it is NOT a genetically valid category. Jews, for example, are not a separate race. Nor are Europeans (they are akin to the peoples of the Middle East, central Asia and India, who are generally left out of the "Caucasian" race). Nor are there just "three" races. You can actually differntiate five major groups* and several smaller ones. Many of these groups have mixed with each other to a considerable extent, producing mixed-race populations like the meztizos of Latin American.

*West Eurasians, Northeast Asians (who include Native Americans too), Southeast Asians (who include Pacific Islanders), West Africans (including the Bantu all across the continent) and South Africans (the Khoi-San and scattered groups up through the east African Rift Valley). Native Australians, Papuans, Andaman Islanders, the Ainu and Basques (and probably some others) are in small groups of their own.

Re: Subjects of Leftist "abuses of science": Nuclear Winter...

The nuclear winter hypothesus was NOT an abuse of science. It was a logically valid initial hypothesis that was subsequently refined and revised from something absolutely apocalyptic to something still quite ghastly, but not quite so bad (sometimes called "nuclear autumn"). By the way, nuclear winter effects have occured in recorded history, but from volcanos, not nuclear bombs. Worst one (since written records began) was probably the 535 AD event which created famine and pestilence throughout the world, killing over 100 million people, helping to usher in the Dark Ages in Europe and hollowing out the Middle East just in time from the expansion of Islam in the next century.

Re: A "black" man from the horn of Africa is probably as genetically different from white man from Norway as he is from another "black" man from southern Africa.’
Absolutely false.

Actually you're wrong. The people of the Horn of Africa are a mix of three different groups: they have West African, South African and West Eurasian ancestry. Note that many of them even speak Semitic languages related to Arabic, not the neighboring Bantu or Nilo-Saharan tongues.

Re: "Black" Africans are the most genetically diverse peoples on the face of the earth.

You can lump most speakers of Niger-Khordifanian and Nilo-Saharan languages into one group, with the proviso that along the northern boundaries of this region there have been considerable gene flows with the population of North Africa and the Mediterranean.
1.28.2007 6:22pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Jonathan, like Byomtov, I liked this - "If the Bush Administration is worse than prior administrations, there are potential, non-partisan explanations. For instance, I suspect it makes a difference whether Congress is controlled by the opposing party. When it isn't, an administration may act more irresponsibly. Yet if this is the case, it is not because Republicans are in power, but because there is insufficient legislative oversight, and there is no reason to believe that unified Democratic government would behave any better."

So it's not the party that's abusing power to be blamed, but the minority party, for not having won enough votes to provide a proper balance, thereby enabling the majority party? And shall we ignore the abusive jerrymandering that played a part?

Of course you have put your finger on something, which is the irrestistible appeal of lucre, and the inability of Republicans to govern according to their own principles. John Baden nailed what has happened with this short piece: http://www.free-eco.org/articleDisplay.php?id=488.

Sounds like we will just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope the Dems prove more virtuous than the Republicans.
1.28.2007 10:25pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
TokyoTom --

Just to clarify, my point is that divided government might reduce the politiciation of science. Of course, there may be other reasons to oppose (or favor) divided government, but one benefit is that it does result in greater legislative oversight of executive actions.

JHA
1.28.2007 10:36pm
Jay Myers:
godfodder:

When the Left "sins" against science, corporations go bankrupt, progress grinds to a halt, huge sums of money are wasted on symbolic gestures, and millions of lives get jeopardized.

Hmmm. I wish I were kidding. Literally millions of people have died because DDT was needlessly and foolishly banned.

I won't dispute your characterization that liberals banned DDT but I would like to point out that the liberals who did so were Richard Nixon and his EPA administrator, William Ruckelshaus. In a letter to the the American Farm Bureau Federation, Ruckelshaus explained why he issued the ban on DDT against the recommendations made by scientists during a three-month hearing. "Science, along with other disciplines such as economics, has a role to play, but the ultimate judgment remains political."
1.29.2007 3:36pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Jonathan:

Thanks for the response.

The last six years have made it clear that divided government is highly desirable, as at least a partial check on the misuse of government for private ends that Public Choice theory explains so well. This misuse of government leads to the abuse of science as a cover for governmental acts intended to benefit favored interests.

This problem has been growing as corporations have realized that they can use government to their advantage to raise barriers to entry, hinder competition and to pass onto the public various risks associated with their activities (with roots in the grant of limited liability to investors), and citizens groups have realized they need to be vigilant and engage in political and regulatory battle (as legislation has limited the applicability of the common law).

While I agree with you that a partial "solution to the problem of political science abuse lies in institutional reform" - solutions along the lines that Breyer has discussed - at the core the problem is one of the growth of government and the struggle between interest groups, and the temptation of legislators, presidents and bureaucrats to favor such interests over a less-choate common good.

The Republicans had a great opportunity to reform and rationalize risk assessment in the regulatory process, but it seems that this was never even on the agenda - the temptations to use government for private ends was simply too strong. This is the Republican legacy - one of terrific opportunities wasted.

Regulatory reform is unlikely to be high on the Dem agenda, and we may be entering a period of political payback, coupled with a similar submission to partisan special interests.
1.29.2007 9:16pm