Sunday, February 29, 2004

Bush's Junk Science II Chris Mooney is one of the best writers on scientific issue around today. Don't miss this article from today's Washington Post. In it, he discusses how the Bush administration uses the term "sound science" whenever they want to claim scientific justification for a predetermined political goal.

It all sounds noble enough, but the phrases "sound science" and "peer review" don't necessarily mean what you might think. Instead, they're part of a lexicon used to put a pro-science veneer on policies that most of the scientific community itself tends to be up in arms about. In this Orwellian vocabulary, "peer review" isn't simply an evaluation by learned colleagues. Instead, it appears to mean an industry-friendly plan to require such exhaustive analysis that federal agencies could have a hard time taking prompt action to protect public health and the environment. And "sound science" can mean, well, not-so-sound science.

Dig into the origins of the phrase "sound science" as a slogan in policy disputes, and its double meaning becomes clearer. That use of the term goes back to a campaign waged by the tobacco industry to undermine the indisputable connection between smoking and disease. Industry documents released as a result of tobacco litigation show that in 1993 Philip Morris and its public relations firm, APCO Associates, created a nonprofit front group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) to fight against the regulation of cigarettes. To mask its true purpose, TASSC assembled a range of anti-regulatory interests under one umbrella. The group also challenged the now widely accepted notion that secondhand smoke poses health risks.

On issues from global warming to stem-cell research, Bush and other Republican lawmakers have used science not as a tool for ferreting out the truth on complicated issues, but as a rhetorical weapon for justifying whatever it is they want to do. Especially revealing is this quote from the article:

The phrase "sound science" has also become part of a political sales pitch. In 2002, Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz wrote in a memorandum for GOP congressional candidates that "The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is your commitment to sound science." The choice of words -- as much as policy -- was the key to swaying public opinion, he suggested, providing a voter-friendly vocabulary list. On climate change, "The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed," he added. "There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science." In this instance, "sound science" seems to mean undermining the robust consensus that has developed in the scientific community on climate change -- precisely the opposite of what you'd expect.

The cynicism here is breathtaking. Global warming is not a serious problem that we might, if we act soon enough, be able to do something about. Instead it is an inconvenience, something that makes it a little more difficult for Republicans to suck-up to the polluters who so generously fund their campaigns.

Even worse is that the only reason this propaganda is effective is because too many Americans refuse to educate themselves on scientific issues.


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