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Adler v. Mooney -- One Last Time:

Continuing the discussion over the alleged GOP "War on Science," Chris Mooney offers a surreply to my reply here. As I think we've both said most of what we have to say, I will only make a three quick, final points.

First, if Mooney's ultimate claim about the Bush Administration and embryonic stem cells is nothing more than Administration officials spun the science in their talking poitns to support the decision, then I don't see the big deal. Indeed, it reduces the difference between Bush abuses and those of others on this issue (e.g. John Edwards) to be little more than who was in power at the time. And on this count, it's very difficult to argue the Clinton Adminsitration was not just as guilty (as were prior Administrations). Carol Browner, for instance, used to exaggerate scientific claims related to the asthma-air pollution connection (and other things) all the time as EPA Administrator. I (and others who have reviewed the book) took Mooney to be making a stronger claim about the nature of the Bush Administration's actions in his book. If I was mistaken, I think the example loses much of its force.

Second, on the DQA, I agree that it creates opportunities for industry groups and others to challenge the scientific basis for government regulations. My point is that More precautionary alternatives make it easier for activist groups (and industry, which often seeks regulation as an anti-competitive measure), to spur government regulation when a sound scientific predicate is lacking. The ESA is a good example here. I believe the Act's use of the "best available" science is the right standard, but it certainly allows for the listing of species based upon preliminary evidence that may be subsequently shown to be erroneous.

Third, on whether precautionary principle adovcates seek to don the mantle of science, the first blurb promoting the book I cited proclaims the principle is "a rational, practical, fair-minded, powerful, science-based approach for making the world a safer, more livable place." The quote is from ecologist Sandra Steingraber, who has her own book advocating the precuationary principle. Other examples in the literature are equally easy to come by.

Justin Wilson (mail):

Indeed, it reduces the difference between Bush abuses and those of others on this issue

Isn't this just a restatement of the "well everybody else does it" justification that we parents often hear from our preschoolers?
2.9.2007 4:46pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Mr. Wilson --

Yes, but with one important difference. Pre-schoolers make this claim in an effort to excuse their conduct. I, on the other hand, do not excuse the Bush Administration's conduct. Rather, I challenge Mooney's contention that this Administration's actions constitute an unprecedented "war on science."

JHA
2.9.2007 4:50pm
Colin (mail):
Prof. Adler,

Do you argue that it is not a "war on science," or that it is not unprecedented?
2.9.2007 4:52pm
Orielbean (mail):
I for one enjoy how the current administration has manhandled so many issues in the past few years. Clinton and Reagan were masters of the sleight-of-hand and so got off the hook for so many of their manipulations / policies. Bush is the Wizard of Oz here - he and his are so inept and bumbling in so many ways that we get to see the curtain pulled aside.

Even when they re-classify documents or try and dodge the media, it ends up "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" and so exposes the intellectual dishonesty behind the policy. The guy can't even get his super spies to kidnap terrorists without having the whole thing blow up in his face (pun intended) and arrest warrants issued!

I certainly would not defend any branch of the government; with the exception of the SC. At least they go to pains to explain their decsions. We can agree or disagree with the reasoning or bias - but they have the decency to lay it out for us.

Perhaps the past 20 years has been a lesson in the excess of both left and right, and maybe someday we can use this as an example to demand more accountability and disclosure from the puppetmasters that we elect or allow to get appointed.

I grew up Democrat, found myself agreeing with Republicans, then finally realized I was allowing my views to be framed in their terms and not my own. I don't want rendition or free abortions, I just want transparency and accountability.

Does that make me a closet libertarian? I like when government does things that are helpful and tough to do by myself. I dislike when they waste and meddle on both sides of the aisle.
2.9.2007 5:24pm
frankcross (mail):
I certainly can't argue that science is manipulated by all ideologies to suit their endis

But I think it's interesting that Norman Levitt, who nicely punctured the leftist attack on science has written that Bush Administration efforts represent a far more dangerous phenomenon" than that of the leftists he critiqued.

If the Bush Administration is not different in kind, it may be different in degree.
2.9.2007 5:32pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Adler was way too easy on Mooney. Mooney's claims evaporate on close inspection.
2.9.2007 5:59pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
This is a little like saying Bill Gates and I are both "wealthy" because he and I have both earned a lot of pennies in our lifetime. The difference in degree between Gates' wealth and my own is enough to make it a difference in kind.

Arguably, this is the case with regard to the "wealth" of antiscience cultivated by the Bush administration. Other administrations have manipulated scientific data for policy ends, but this administration has done so far more incontinently, and (moreover) done so in the "complete lack of a policy apparatus." That being so, "unprecedented" is a fair label.
2.9.2007 6:20pm
The Red Menace (mail):
As a general matter, I find that when anyone starts out a sentence with something like, "those guys do X, but my party would never do X," I know I'm dealing with a liar or a fool.

Which block does Mooney fall into?
2.9.2007 8:03pm
Colin (mail):
Which block does Mooney fall into?

Neither. Mooney is quite explicit that both parties do X. You might profit by reading his work before you complain about it.
2.10.2007 4:56pm