Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Republican War on Mooney

In September of last year, Chris Mooney published his excellent book The Republican War on Science. Mooney documented in copious detail what any sentient person has suspected for some time: that hostility towards science is an integral part of the modern Republican party.

Unsurprisingly, this thesis hasn't played well among Republicans and conservatives, and they have written some nasty reviews of Mooney's book. Two in particular have recently caught my eye.

Mooney can take care of himself, so I will leave it up to him to decide whether a full-blooded reply to these silly reviews is warranted. Here I will only address one point made by both reviewers.

Mooney devotes a chapter to the subject of ID. Writing in Commentary, Kevin Shapiro takes exception to this:

Even the few credible examples of alleged right-wing scientific distortion in the book hardly rise to the level of genuine political abuse. Intelligent Design is an unscientific theory, but the Republican party has hardly made a systematic effort to promote it; the effort has instead been spearheaded by private institutions with only vague ties to some conservative politicians.

Meanwhile, in an essay published in National Review last October, Adam Keiper offered this defense:

The chapter on evolution and intelligent design provides some interesting historical background, but in the end Mooney fails to put the debate in its proper perspective. Conservatives are not politically unified in, not especially motivated by, and in a great many cases simply annoyed at, the intelligent-design debate.

Interesting. Here are two high-profile, right-wing venues trying hard to distance themselves, and the Republican Party, from ID. If only there were more of this coming from conservatives these days.

Sadly, this defense is bogus. Virtually every prominent Republican has come out in support of teaching ID in schools. President Bush supports it. Senators like Bill First, John McCain, Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback and many others openly support it as well. The only Republican senator I know of who has spoken against ID is Chris Shays of Connecticut, and he is frequently derided as a RINO (Republican in name only) by his right-wing colleagues. In the House we find that Ohio representative John Boehner, currently one of the three main candidates to replace Tom DeLay (himself an outspoken, and amazingly ignorant, critic of evolution), wrote a letter to the Ohio state school board pressuring them to include ID in their science classes on the fallacious grounds that the No Child Left Behind Act requires it. He was joined in this effort by Ohio Republican Steve Chabot.

Of course, the Religious Right is four-square behind ID (actually, many of them prefer young-Earth creationism), and since they are a large part of the Rpeublican base their opinions hold great sway over the party generally. Every prominent conservative magazine has published articles either ciritical of evolution or supportive of ID (or both). I don't know of a single one that has published a major article defending evolution. No, an occasional column by George Will or Charles Krauthammer doesn't count.

The main think tank promoting ID is the Discovery Institute, which was founded by ex-Reagan administration people and has its fingers in a wide variety of conservative pies. It is staffed and funded entirely by Republicans. I know of know conservative of any prominence who has criticized them specifically for their activities.

Most damning of all, in every state where anti-evolution measures have been brought before the school board, it has been Republicans who were behind it. I don't know of a single Democrat in any state legislature (we're talking recently, of course, just in case any petulant commenter was planning to throw William Jennings Bryan at me) who has ever introduced an anti-evolution measure.

So it's nice that Keiper and Shapiro want to distance conservatives from ID. Alas, they are a small minority in the modern Republican party.


At 9:12 PM, Blogger Jasen M aka The Staple said...

You talk about this, yet say nothing at the Democtats sickening display in the Alito hearings?

Not to mention the Liberal molestation of Christmas....What a sham.


At 9:53 PM, Anonymous v hutchison said...

Good comments in defense of Mooney, showing clearly that Repubs do embrace ID. However - and unfortunately - an Oklahoma Democrat, Representative Abe Deutschendorf, Lawton,(maybe a DINO) has just introduced House Bill 2526 that would allow any school district to authorize the teaching of ID. Perhaps he is only trolling for votes in his cionservative district with the hope that his bill will die in committee. However, this would be a dangerous move. If any of the creationist inspired bills make it to a floor vote, they will pass.

HB 2526 is just one of several possible creationist initiatives expected this year. An 'academic freedom act' proposal (HB 2107)that directly attacks evolution has already been filed by a Repuglican.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

"Mooney also falsely says that pro-lifers think embryos deserve “the same moral and legal protections as fully developed human beings.” No one has made that argument;"

err yes they have

"The most far-reaching feature of the
Unborn Victims of Violence Act (Public
Law No. 108-212) is the definition of the
“unborn victims” it seeks to protect. The
new federal crime applies when violence
injures “a member of the species [H]omo
sapiens, at any stage of development, who
is carried in the womb.”
These words can be interpreted to
include embryos from the point of conception"

any search fetus protection law

At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

Jasen M, What Liberal molestation of Christmas? Where do you get this stuff???

I have to admit, when I saw the words "sickening" and "molestation" in your post I could have sworn you were talking about the Catholic church.

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a pagan, I'm offended that we no longer say "Merry Winter Solstice." Those damn Christians stole our holiday! Where's Bill O'Reilly when you need him?

Anyway, yeah, the GOP sucks. And I'm a former Republican. I am sickened by how the GOP has allowed itself to be a lapdog for a fringe element of the Christian religion.

The late Barry Goldwater predicted all of this long ago.

"Every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell's ass."

A few years later he told The Advocate, "I don't have any respect for the Religious Right. There is no place in this country for practicing religion in politics. That goes for Falwell, Robertson and all the rest of these political preachers. They are a detriment to the country."

"A lot of so-called conservatives don't know what the word means. They think I've turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That's a decision that's up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right."

"I look at these religious television shows," he said, "and they are raising big money on God. One million, three million, five million - they brag about it. I don't believe in that. It's not a very religious thing to do."

"If they [the Religious Right] succeed in establishing religion as a basic Republican Party tenet," he told U.S. News & World Report in 1994, "they could do us in." In an interview with The Post that same year, Goldwater observed, "When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Just read the newspaper articles that deal with any politician and intelligent design--you will almost always see the politician identified as "(R-[name of state])." Few Democratic candidates will refer to ID as codswallop, but politicians who are actively introducing bills to teach Creationism are all Republicans. The former school board members in Dover, PA, and the current wingnut state board members in Kansas? Republicans. And the Twit-in-Chief who opined that ID ought to be taught? Republican.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Jason said...

v hutchison-

Thanks for the info. Somehow I just knew there had to be one out there!

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Cosmic Baker said...

How can we know whether Darwin's ideas about evolution are true? In my experience, the truth or falseness of a theory is ultimately determined by comparing it with evidence and not by censoring or attacking other competing theories.

Most Americans, I believe, want to hear more than one side of this argument in spite of the left's attempts at censorship and character assassination. The entire case--meaning all competing theories--should be placed equally before the jury, i.e., scientists, students, and the general American public equally and without prejudice. It's called the "freedom of speech," boys and girls, and in our great country no one should be prevented from hearing all the sides of an argument.

After all, nothing in science--not even Darwin's theory of evolution--deserves to be supported unless that's where the evidence leads.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Ike said...

cosmic, you are half right. Yes, competing theories should (and do) get put pefore scientists for them to examine all the evidence and accept or reject them.

The problem is that ID is not a scientific theory. Scientists can't make any determination about it's validity through objective examination of the evidence because it is not falsifiable.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Pope Zach 64 said...

Cosmic Baker -

Get your facts straight.

Yes, the truth or falseness of a theory is indeed determined by comparing its predictions and consequences with the evidence.

And guess what? There has not been a single piece of evidence yet found that is in contradiction with evolutionary theory. True, our knowledge of the evolutionary history of life on earth is incomplete. But every day, in labs and from field work around the globe, that history is slowly being pieced together. And every day that evidence is in complete harmony with evolutionary theory.

There is no alternative scientific theory to evolution. This is not like the situation early last century, where there was a genuine controversy between steady state cosmology vs. big bang cosmology. Yes, big bang cosmology was at first frowned on by the scientific mainstream. But the "big bangers" formulated theories and generated data that supported those theories. And they found evidence that was NOT consistent with steady state cosmology, but which WAS consistent with Big Bang theory. And they published their findings in peer-reviewed, professional journals so other professionals could evaluate and critique their work. Only after "going mainstream" was big bang cosmology taught in schools.

So the process goes something like this: 1. Evidence is found suggesting a flaw in current theory. 2. A new theory is formulated which is consistent with the new evidence but yet still accounts for the previously known evidence. 3. Experiments are performed and data is gathered and checked against the predictions and consequences of the new theory. 4. The results are published so that it can be evaluated and critiqued. 5. If the data are sound and no flaws in the experiments found, the new theory is taken to be a more accurate description of nature than the old theory and is adopted as the new working model. 6. It gets taught in schools. 7. Start over at Step 1.

The trouble with ID is that has not done one single thing listed above. ID "researchers" have failed to come up with a theory that tells us how or where to detect design. Nor have they generated any evidence that is in contradiction to evolutionary theory. And just because knowledge of evolutionary history or biochemical pathways is incomplete is NOT justification for introducing a "competing theory." Our understanding of Gravity is also incomplete - perhaps we should teach the idea that there are invisible rubber bands binding eveything together along with Newtonian mechanics in high school physics class?

Now that I think of it, yes, ID has done one thing on the list. It has proceeded directly to Step 6, the "teach in schools" step. Without bothering to do any of the work in steps 1-5. Since when does a "theory" with no theoretical model or no data get taught in science class?

This is not a freedom of speech issue, this is an "ID is scientifically useless" issue. There is no "other side" to evolution because there is no alternative scientific theory of origins, and there will not be another side unless and until contradictory evidence is found.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Shapiro (a vague and disappointing acquaintance) actually engaged with Mooney's book, and much of his criticism is simply pre-futed in the book itself.

Example: "He rips President Bush for having “lied” in 2001 about the number of stem-cell lines available for federally funded research, when in fact the President merely cited the most accurate information available at the time."

I don't have Mooney's book with me, but he made it quite clear that the Bush administration, with no in-house science expertise, had someone call around asking for a count of stem cell derivations, many of which were flawed and could never become stem cell lines. If they had actually asked anyone in the field whether their count was accurate, they would have quickly received a negative answer. In fact, only days later, stem cell researchers were already pointing this discrepancy out to the press.

Other example:

"Moreover, it is difficult to understand exactly what is so bad about scientists receiving financial support from the business sector."

Again, Mooney was relying on the sad history of the "tobacco debate", and that the Journal of the American Medical Association found that second-hand smoking studies were 88.4 times as likely to report no adverse effects, when sponsored by industry. Not so difficult to understand what's going on there, even before knowing the specific ways some of those researchers were paid off by industry.

In sum, Shapiro's article is unimpressive and typical of Commentary's politicized science discourse. (But at least they've stopped publishing David Berlinski.)

At 7:07 PM, Anonymous John M said...

It seems to me we should distinguish between all republicans and those now commonly called "conservative" or "religious fundamentalists". I prefer to refer to the later as corrupt conservatives because what they preach is a corruption of conservatism and religion.

At 11:27 PM, Blogger Lettuce said...

The only Republican senator I know of who has spoken against ID is Chris Shays of Connecticut, and he is frequently derided as a RINO (Republican in name only) by his right-wing colleagues.

Chris Shays is not in the Senate. Connecticut's Senators are Chris Dodd and Holy Joe Lieberman.

Chris Shays is in the House, he represents Stamford.

At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can we know whether Darwin's ideas about evolution are true? In my experience, the truth or falseness of a theory is ultimately determined by comparing it with evidence and not by censoring or attacking other competing theories.

The notion of "truth" in science is foreign to me. Any theory receives confidence in its accuracy proportional to how well it explains known facts at any given instant in time.

Sure, theories evolve and mature, but I don't think even the most well-established theories could be labeled "truth," certainly not in the religious or philosophical sense.

Competing theories must explain all known facts; and they should make predictions about the future -- specifically what discovered evidence would further confirm the validity of the theory; AND also, what evidence would cast doubt on the theory.

At the very least, ID lacks the latter quality of a workable and practical scientific theory -- i.e. the ability to be falsified.

There may very well be some "super-natural" force acting upon our natural world in some way that is beyond our ability to test or understand. However, belief in such a force is a matter of theology and not science.

ID proponents understand that their theory is not a legitimate competitor to Evolution. The only way they can make it seem like a legitimate competitor is by making a n appeal to a public largely unaware of scientific discovery process.

IDers are left to spin PR; and to bash the institution of science itself, wishing to re-define the discipline in such a way that it embraces "mechanisms" which are not testable, quantifiable or predictable.

At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Richard Wein said...

Cosmic Baker said:How can we know whether Darwin's ideas about evolution are true? In my experience, the truth or falseness of a theory is ultimately determined by comparing it with evidence...
Quite right. And the good news is that evolutionary theory is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence. ID, on the other hand, is unsupported by any evidence. Gosh, could that be the reason why scientists accept the former and reject the latter?

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