Where it leads

Chris Mooney

Courtesy Of Basic Books

Chris Mooney, who has covered science for the American Prospect for several years, is author of a new book, The Republican War On Science. It is available at Sundance Books, and an excerpt can be read at www.waronscience.com/excerpt.php.

I have a 1997 clipping on my desk from the Wall Street Journal. It is headlined, “Science has spoken: Global warming is a myth.”

Well, you can’t trust the Wall Street Journal on these topics—if it’s the editorial page. They have a terrible record.

When I ran a search for that phrase—"global warming is a myth"—I got 18,700 hits, and almost all of them referred back to this article. How do you deal with the way something like that can spread so widely on the Internet?

Well, you know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. All we can do is—well, first, we can correct it. But that’s not enough. We have to restore some kind of sense of respect and regard for reliable, quality sources of scientific information. That’s why, in the book, I call for bringing back things like the Office of Technology Assessment because with bringing them back, we might be able to restore some sense of respect for actual expertise rather than this sort of hack misinformation.

What are technology assessments?

The Office of Technology Assessments was a well-respected congressional body that did scientific assessment work for Congress, and it was world renowned for doing this. So Congress would ask a question, and OTA would find scientific experts in the field and set them to work on answering it. [The 1995-97 “Gingrich Congress” withdrew funding for all but a skeletal OTA staff.]

In January, University of Nevada biologist David Zeh told the News & Review, “Modern evolutionary biology has so many fundamentally important practical applications in fields ranging from drug design to conservation biology. Any attempt to subvert its scientific integrity is, in my opinion, a threat to national security.”

Wow. Well, it does have a lot of implications in a lot of areas. Depends on how you defend national security, I guess.

I think what he was getting at was when you put science in the service of ideology, the U.S. falls behind.

Yes. Competitiveness is not necessarily the same thing as national security. I think it is a threat to competitiveness, international competitiveness in a global marketplace. I like to put it that the 21st century is widely expected to be the century of dramatic advances in biology and biotechnology—genomics, proteomics, etcetera, you know. And the fact that we are systematically misinforming our students about biology is not going to equip them well to compete in this new century. That’s how I would put it.

Your book talks about the Republicans. But it doesn’t follow those lines specifically, does it? There are enlightened Republicans and unenlightened Democrats.

There are enlightened Republicans, but I’m criticizing a party, a party infrastructure, and a party’s way of doing political business. And the enlightened Republicans are the minority; they’re the moderates; they’re not running the show.