Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Democrats War on Science

First, I have to admit that I'm not the first one to think of this title. Here's someone else's thoughts on the subject with a link here. Of course, the title really comes form a popular book, The Republican War on Science. The premise of this book is that the Bush administration ignored or distorted accepted science in an effort to appease its base. When President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for research on post-2001 stem cell lines, he made it clear that he saw this as restoring science to its rightful place in policy.

From the title of this post it is obvious that I have a different opinion of the Republicans' and Democrats' treatment of science. I will go over it briefly here.

Let's start with stem cell research since it got a lot of press yesterday when Obama signed his executive order. The coverage was ecstatic. At last, science returns to the White House! The problem is that this is not a scientific question. It is an ethical one with a strong political element. Is a human embryo a human being with protected rights? The Democrats say no but they do not say when it becomes human. This ties into the abortion debate which holds that a fetus becomes a human sometime around its 6th month unless it is aborted. In its efforts to support late-term abortion, the Democrats refuse to talk about ethics. Instead they turn their backs, put their fingers in their collective ears, and shout, "La, la, la." Insisting that this refusal to discuss ethics constitutes a return to science is a departure from reality worse than anything that the Republicans are guilty of. More on stem-cell ethics here.

After stem cell research, the big argument about science usually centers around global warming. Bush critics lead by James Hansen of NASA insist that the Bush administration ignored or minimized the consensus on climate change. But they don't stop there. They continue on and tell you about all of the disasters that are going to befall humanity unless we act immediately. They cross the line between scientist impartially delivering the truth and hysteric scare-monger trying to frighten you into correct behavior. They insist that only they know the truth and that any dissenters have been bought off by "big carbon". This is exactly what they accuse the Bush administration of doing - distorting scientific evidence in order to appease their base. Two top Obama appointees are know to do this. Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu, predicted that future warming would dry up all agriculture in California by the end of the century, even though no climate models show this. Then there is Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, who, in the 1980s, predicted that a billion people would be dead from global warming by 2020. When Obama's top scientists engage in scare stories, we have to judge his entire administration as being less than honest.

But, let's accept for now that global warming is happening and that we have to do something about it quickly. James Hansen recently named coal burning power plants as the biggest targets. He refers to them as death factories. Energy Secretary Chu says that "coal is his nightmare". Obama has committed to doubling the amount of electricity generated by renewable sources by the end of his first term. The biggest renewable source of electricity is hydropower but we don't have any more rivers to dam up (and environmentalists don't like dams, anyway). Obama is mainly talking about expanding solar and wind power. These are currently very tiny sources of power. They are also unreliable since they only produce power when the wind blows or the sun shines. What's more, the nation's biggest wind farm project has been opposed by the Kennedy family because it might spoil their view.

What about nuclear power? That has the biggest potential. But Democrats have opposed new reactors for years. There is also the problem of nuclear disposal. A facility has been designated in Nevada but Obama has signaled that he will not open it, preferring to keep storing radioactive waste at the plants. This is politics, not science-driven.

Other complaints always seem to come from the left. Remember the endangered Northern Spotted Owl? Except it is the same bird as the non-endangered Southern Spotted Owl, it just lives further north. Science has shown that there is no link between vaccinations and autism but the left disagrees. Other baseless complaints come from the left, also for such things as soft vinyl and Teflon. It is the left that opposed thinning forests which is the cause of devastating forest fires.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. Democrats like to think that they are the "reality based" party but they engage in as much or more distortion of science. Science seldom gives straightforward answers. There are ambiguities and trade-offs. Worse, there are ethical considerations. Any administration that says that it is basing all of its decisions on pure science is lying in order to occupy a moral high ground that they have no right to possess.

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