Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Bush Administration IS NOT and WAS NOT anti-science

So much has been written about the supposed anti-science stance of the Bush administration (see for example Chris Mooney, AFP, many Nobel laureates, etc  and even me).  But I have been obsessing about this in my head for some time now.  And I think it misses the point.  Bush and his administration have not really been anti-science.  There I said it.  Ready to smack me over the head?

Before you do that.  Wait.  What I think Bush is is even more insidious.  He is anti-evidence.  Or, in other words, he does not believe science should be used to discover things but instead simply as a means to an end.  Sound familiar?  This was his approach to weapons, torture, Guantanamo, gathering intelligence about US citizens, and so on.   All these things were justified because evidence and objectively testing multiple possibilities was not really needed - we knew the answer and just had to back it up with something consistent with the theory.  In essence, everything he did titled against evidence in all sorts of areas.  

So - even though he was not anti-science per se.  The anti-evidence attitude hit scientists really hard.  Science is NOT about just trying to get to an end.  It is also about discovery.  And thus I look forward to a president who believes science is a way to discover things about the world that we do not already know.


  1. Dang, man, you gave me a scare. Whenever you write a post it shows up in my Google Alerts (because of the latest post from my blog being shown in your sidebar), and when I saw the headline I thought... oh no, Jon lost his mind!

    I am relieved to read your expanded diagnosis of Bush's issues with Reality, and I fully agree. I cheered at the plug for Science in Obama's Inauguration, as well as his inclusive statements with regard to people of, and without, religious faith.

  2. I know, I know. A little deceptive in the header. But I am trying to learn from CNN.COM headlines and not be so damn honest ...

  3. I guess we might be quibbling over definitions here, but if we take evidence away from 'science', what have we got?

    Technology? Magic?

    Certainly no scientific process: and if we define science as just that, then yeah, he was/is anti-science.

  4. What I meant was that the bush admin will use science to achieve a goal such as getting to mars or whatever but they are not interested in using science to discover things per se

    This basic science is no good and if science shows some bad result for their goal they will suppress the science and seek another way to achieve their goals

  5. I think that's a good point Jon. There certainly is an element on the right that is literally anti-science -- apparently they seem to see it as the root of secular thinking, therefore undermining faith -- which seems batshit crazy to the most of us, but never mind.

    But the people who hold such views seem to style themselves as intellectuals, which is hardly Bush's style.

  6. In essence you are accusing Pres. Bush of being irrational. I find that amusing because, although it's funny, it can't be taken seriously. Are you suggesting that the former president should have used the scientific method to resolve those cases you cited, such as what to do with the Guantanamo detainees? What do you have to say to Pres. Obama voting to re-authorize the Patriot Act as well as the FISA spying provisions? Was that evidence based? Maybe it's a matter of choosing to ignore evidence (however compelling) in favor of political or other considerations. That might be more accurate.

    It's not about evidence anyway. It's far more interesting to discuss presidential judgement in cases where there is no, or conflicting evidence. Anyway, here's wishing the best for President Obama. That's more courtesy than many gave Pres. Bush on his first day...

    P.S. Also, why poo-poo a mission to Mars? Wouldn't that be a mission of discovery?

  7. 1. I was not actually accusing him of being irrational in this post. I was trying to say that he was only interested in science when it can be used to achieve a goal. He was not interested in using science in any way either for discovery OR to help determine what to do.

    2. The comment about Guantanamo was not about science. It was about evidence and how the Bush admin. wanted to hold people without trial, without presenting evidence in a court of law. Similar on the comment about torture --- it is OK to torture people when you just know they must be guilty of something. Many of the actions of the Bush administration on civil liberties and rights of the accused point to a disdain for evidence.

    3. As for the Mars comment, I did not mean to dis the mission. I meant to use it as an example of how Bush was in fact interested in science as a means to an end. But when there is something in need of discovery (e.g., what level of some pollution is toxic, what is the future path of global climate change, and many many other well documented ways the Bush admin tried to manipulate scientific findings) the Bush administration either wanted to ignore science or suppress it.

  8. I think you demean “science” if you allow its definition to include “that thing which enables Bush to achieve his means.” By your definition, torture should be considered science!

  9. I would argue it is the other way around Baloney
    They demeaned science by using it this way just as many have done before.


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