and Alan Sokol write an Op-ed for the LA times on restoring scientific integrity in government.
Those of you who don't know Mooney, he's the guy who wrote the Republican War On Science
I think this is a pretty sound essay on returning scientific integrity to the federal government, and interestingly, he starts out his essay describing how before the Republican majority took over in 1994, it appeared the post-modernist left was the true danger to science.
n the 1990s, conservatives such as Dinesh D'Souza, Gertrude Himmelfarb and Roger Kimball wrote best-selling jeremiads attacking postmodernist academics who, they insisted, were taking over American universities and subverting the standards of scholarship. Although much exaggerated, this contained a grain of truth. Some self-described leftist academics did seem determined to reduce the real world to mere "discourse." No worldview, they insisted, could be considered objectively more valid or factual than any other. Even the findings of science were described as reflecting societal conditions and struggles for power and dominance rather than something true about the nature of the world.
One of us — Sokal — was sufficiently disturbed by these trends to try an unorthodox experiment: write a parody of postmodern science criticism to see whether a trendy academic journal would accept it as a serious scholarly article. Asserting up front that "physical 'reality' [note the scare quotes]... is at bottom a social and linguistic construct," Sokal averred that the latest conceptions of quantum gravity support deconstructive literary theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, "postmodernist epistemology" and, of course, progressive politics. The cultural-studies journal Social Text ate it up.
I remember encountering that crap in college, as a physics major, it was very tiresome in your humanities courses to encounter post-modernism and be told science wasn't real. How is post-modernism doing these days by the way?
Anyway, their solutions to our current problems seem reasonable, and they rightly hit on the necessary step to re-institutionalize science as a part of effective policy-making.
TO ADDRESS this new crisis over the relationship between science and politics, we propose a combination of political activism and institutional reform. Congress needs to establish safeguards to protect the integrity of scientific information in Washington — strong whistle-blower protections for scientists who work in government agencies would be a good start.
We also need a strengthening of the government scientific advisory apparatus, starting with the revival of the Office of Technology Assessment. And we need congressional committees to continue with their investigations of cases of science abuse within the Bush administration, in order to learn what other reforms are necessary.
At the same time, journalists and citizens must renounce a lazy "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach and start analyzing critically the quality of the evidence. For, in the end, all of us — conservative or liberal, believer or atheist — must share the same real world. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not spare deniers of evolution, and global climate change will not spare any of us. As physicist Richard Feynman wrote in connection with the space shuttle Challenger disaster, "nature cannot be fooled."
Truly, the recovery of the OTA would be a great first step. We can only hope that if the Republicans try to disband it again we won't let it go without a fight.
Labels: Republicans, science