I had breakfast this morning with Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican War on Science". He is an interesting fellow, to say the least. I have read his book, and he makes an excellent case that in the past few years, the government has made devastatingly damaged science. I wanted to talk to him in more general terms about what scientists can do to stop this, and we had an excellent conversation about it in a DC coffeehouse he habituates (which is right near my hotel for the AAS meeting-- which I will be blogging about later today or tomorrow -- and another blogebrity, Wonkette, was there at the coffeehouse as well!).
While we were talking, he said something which made me pause. About those who would destroy science, he said, "They have no respect for the information." This is an incredibly succinct statement of what's going on. To a scientist, information is a means to understanding a problem; an observation may yield insight into where a particular model might be right or wrong. But to a political operative, bent on power or forcing their point of view on the public with no regard to truth, information is only a means to achieving the desired result. If the information happens to agree with what you're trying to say, wonderful. Hyperbolize it. If it doesn't, ignore it, marginalize it, or worse, twist it to make it seem like it supports what you're saying.
In this case, science and politics are at exact opposites: science wants information to uncover underlying truths, while political operatives use information as a tool -- or, more accurately, a weapon -- to further political gain despite the truth. Politicians may actively distort the truth if it disagrees with their pre-determined goals, whereas with scientists, truth is the goal.
And yes, I know that some scientists are not all heroes and truth-seekers, just as not all politicians are slimy and corrupt. I will praise those politicans who are honest and true, and lambaste those scientists who put their own gain above the science. But that is not the point at all: staying on target, we have to remember that the people who are causing all this woe are the politicians who are driving this anti-science campaign.
I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat, what's happening in the U.S. is a wholesale dismantling of one of our most precious resources: the scientific ability to sort truth from fiction. This ability is what my website (and blog) are all about, so I intend to be more active in this field in the future.