weeks months ago, just before going on a terrific field season (which learned me blogging is really an aside), I read “The Republican war on science”, from Chris Mooney (blogging at The Intersection).
I have to admit I bought the book without prejudice but also without such a strong interest, out of mere curiosity. From a European point of view, American political differences between the mainstream parties sometimes seem so subtle that we are “lost in translation” (this is not being too arrogant I hope, some other people have more or less been taking on this).
I’ve been learning here that this is mostly due to vote fishing, a practice which is very probably universal in electoral democracies anyway. But let’s go back to the book.
It’s no secret for anyone anymore that the current administration is abusing science like it’s never been seen before. You probably already heard about the issue. “The Republican war on science” is an overview of a long history of misuse of sciences to promote ideological agendas by good o’ right wing, something which isn’t just about global warming but ranging from endangered species conservation, health issues (the link between cancer and smoking, addictive sugar additives lobbying, abortion rights and sex education) and their modern component alike (stem cell research), to evolution.
Yes, not to say, that’s a lot… I found a very fascinating reading here. The book is very well written, frames the issues into their historical perspective (something that’s clearly needed for readers from other cultural backgrounds like me), and is impressively documented. Some parts are nevertheless maybe somewhat light. I’m thinking about the creation-evolution controversy here, but maybe that is because I’m more familiar with the subject and that’s a rather minor point, because the whole thing is already adressed by many other works.
I am still rather impressed by the quality and clarity of the book. It is never redundant and the reader is invited to a real investigation work, without ever falling into the modern plagues of easiness or conspiracy-thinking. In other words, it is truely informative and devoid of partisan bias, making the reading readily comfortable. The only weakness, according to me, is that the willingness for a completely unbiased assessment of the question is going too far, sometimes leading the author to be unnecessary cautious about the aim of the book. This is certainly pleasing to politically moderate readers, but doesn’t really help. As a complete political outsider, I have no doubt that the author would write the same incisive points, be it about the “other side”.
Now there is really something to learn from this book, something I completely overlooked before, and this something is all about the Think tanks phenomena. I’m not sure as to whether this is already a very European idea, though I clearly don’t know about it. I strongly recommand my colleagues and friends to consider reading the book (best buy it! We unfortunately don’t have enough place in our suitcases to take it back with us).
I strongly recommand it, because of this trivial, anecdotal memory. I remember, just before going to high school, having a class about the global warming controversy. Yep, it’s back in the late 80’s and the scientific debate was a little more controversial than nowadays but still. I remember the teacher telling us about volcanoes probably contributing to warming as much as we do. I remember people the class breathing to me something like “you see, are you going to ask volcanoes to stop it?” (I don’t even know why I was targeted as an environmentalist at that time but nevermind). Well, you’ll learn this part was fringe science at best and didn’t make it through time. But we still had it presented as evidence. I don’t know about you, but the very idea that hoaxy science promoted by conservative Think tanks in the USA can make it through the French education system is plainly frightening. So just read this book…