Has Science Been Restored To Its Rightful Place?
    By Hank Campbell | November 4th 2012 11:19 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    In 2008, I was as excited as anyone about the chance to correct some public relations mistakes made by the Bush administration in the nascent years of blogging.  Obviously some of the 'Republicans are anti-science' stuff was because when you are far left, even the middle looks like the right, but Republicans had done no favors to themselves by 'taking the bait' on topics like hESC research.  What had been a reasonable, bipartisan position on human embryonic stem cells in 2001 (traditional conservatives were actually all for it, more religious types among both Democrats and Republicans were not) became a simple partisan divide when it was revisited two more times and Bush shot it down despite Republicans overall being in favor of it.
    Did it matter in science?  Not really, no more than a few crackpot schools wanting to teach religion in science classes really matters, but the perception was it mattered and perception rules in politics. So science academia, 84% left wing, was told by the new blogging machine that a restriction on federal funding to existing lines was a 'ban'.  It was a fabrication but the Democratic National Committee could not have paid entire marketing teams enough money to disparage Republicans so thoroughly and successfully in the eyes of academics.  Even today, literate, educated people in science will say it was a ban - they read it on the Internet, so it must be true - and then say that President Obama 'lifted' the ban when the truth is the bulk of the restrictions are the same.

    Essentially, President Obama did to biologists what he did to war protesters with Guantanamo Bay - he threw a bone so that they would move onto something else.  Despite Guantanamo Bay operating just the same and America still being in two wars, war protests disappeared - and so did protests about government interference in science because of a token change in federal biology funding.  In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists was so concerned about government interference in science they got thousands of signatures from scientists to protest it - but in November 2008 UCS protests about government interference in science evaporated along with war protests, presumably to return only if uber-sports-analyst Nate Silver is wrong in his model of polling data showing President Obama is around 84% likely to win re-election.

    What about scientists?  Are they objective and rational and reality-based enough to look at the results and make a decision that isn't filtered by their voter registration?  Of course not, scientists are not robots, they care about stuff and they like some things and not other things and they are as irrational as anyone. But despite concerns about the leftward shift out of the mainstream in the last 30 years,  we are all the better for their liberalism.  Science can not be done 'conservatively', it has to be about pushing boundaries, and the makeup of conservatives has changed a lot in 30 years also.  I can't help but note that science also has its attracted its share of progressive, social authoritarian kooks that drown out the more moderate liberals - and they are a big problem but that issue merited a whole book (out now, called Science Left Behind).  Still, among mainstream scientists, liberals are not a problem any more than conservatives are - anyone claiming they are is selling you something and that something is likely their candidate.  

    Party politics aside, what about an objective look at the two candidates and their science positions?  President Obama's team was unconcerned about the recent Science Debate questionnaire while Governor Romney's writers seemed to have put some real thought into it. So did Romney's more thoughtful and comprehensive answers make any difference at all?  Probably not a single vote.  The Science Debate answers were irrelevant except for confirmation bias purposes because the partisan nature of modern science academia has made scientists irrelevant.  When everyone knows how you are going to vote, and that nothing will change it, neither side needs to appeal to you, the side with the 84% just needs a 'get out the vote' campaign during the week before the election.

    So the questions and answers were ignored but what about the track record? Is President Obama being held to the same standard as Bush was? Did he "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology" as he promised?

    My co-author Alex Berezow and I have an excerpt of "Science Left Behind" in The American magazine this weekend (online version here) because, while the book is about social authoritarian progressives and not liberals or even Democrats, one section of the book does lay out a problem with ignoring reason and fact by people in science academia overall - the persistent claim that Obama is somehow different, more pro-science, despite data to the contrary.  By non-partisan reckoning, their actions have been pretty similar.  Whereas Bush edited science reports on climate change, Obama edited them on the BP oil spill.  In the Obama case, he said peer-reviewed recommendations were to ban offshore drilling and the seven scientists who supposedly said that were so aghast they had to declare it false.  Sound familiar?  Of course it does. 

    The anti-vaccine mentality of the Obama administration has been far more dangerous than the previous administration. I'm not here to defend Bush, but when everyone is saying one side is awful yet a neutral examination shows both sides are the same, someone has to take note. It's the advantage we have of not being part of the corporate-controlled science media clique.  

    Democrats politicize science plenty.  Despite not being in even the top 20 hurricanes of the last 100 years, Sandy and Katrina hold the top two spots for being politicized - in both cases by Democrats to rally votes to their cause and claim science justifies it. Yet even their science on that is wrong.  Outside politics, no one uses the term 'global warming' scientifically - because it is stupid and unscientific.  Climate change is a proper term but while Republicans have dramatically different levels of acceptance when they are given those two terms (it goes up almost 35% when the term is 'climate change') Democrats attach the same level of acceptance to either one.  That's not critical thinking, it is just accepting whatever elites tell you to believe.

    I watched the Democratic National Convention along with lots of other people and, while climate change was included in their platform, it only got mentioned once in the 80 speeches I saw.  Republicans mentioned the climate one less time than Democrats.  So much for one party caring so much more about the environment and science. Former Vice-President Al Gore had to be upset but he was not in attendance because, we are told, Obama had done nothing about climate change.

    The data show he is right to be annoyed.  While both candidates agree the world is warming and that humans are partly to blame, we had four general-election debates and no moderator asked about climate change and no candidate brought it up either. 

    So both edit science reports and neither side cares about climate change, though they both say it is happening. Why is only the Republican anti-science again? Surely scientists see through that hype? Of course, but in politics we all use filters.  We had a hurricane and science media immediately declared that Sandy was proof of global warming, though scientists knew better - it's sometimes fun to let people wind themselves up. A rather batty mayor of New York City even declared his support for President Obama as a climate change president because of the hurricane - even though he never once mentioned climate change during the debates. What a lucky break!  A hurricane in a city and state already voting for Obama.  Politics is a matter of convenience and people who needed some confirmation bias got it from a storm, even though the NOAA said the storm was not caused by global warming.

    In reality, President Obama has done as little about climate change as Bush or Clinton, despite promising to heal America and the planet - spending $72 billion of taxpayer money on corporate subsidies is not helping the environment. Worse, he shot down the Keystone XL project, meaning we are forced to give money to terrorist dictators while he proposes to turn over additional federal lands to corporate energy companies, provided they build solar power and don't harm the ecosystem and use only union labor.  Well, good luck with that.

    He took credit lower fuel imports in his last State Of The Union address but there is a dismal reality aspect to that he left out- we are back at 1990s levels of emissions because we are back at a 1992 economy.  Every sector except government has far higher unemployment than when he took office, he is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to run for reelection with such horrid employment numbers. Fewer people working means fewer emissions.  And he failed to note that a large chunk of the reduced emissions happened because the fossil fuel companies he wants to replace have switched to more natural gas.  CO2 emissions from energy are also at early 1990s levels while coal emissions are at early 1980s levels.  Government subsidies did not accomplish that, the private sector he dislikes did it. 

    So, no, in answer to the question in my title, respect for science is unchanged now from eight years ago or even 20. The last president who truly used his force of will to shape science policy was Ronald Reagan. Science is a tool that is wielded by politicians but it hasn't been 'restored to its rightful place' because it has not been a driver of policy in decades. If it had been, the Republicans who doubled funding of the NIH would be a lot more liked by academics.


    Did President Obama Restore Science to Its Rightful Place? By Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell, The American


    This seems to be more a comment on science research than on any actual application of science to problems. Which sounds a great deal like the battle cry of the "paid to do research" set - the answer to every question is, "I don't know, we need more research." While the current administration hasn't exactly done a 360 from former policy stance, I believe the focus has been on science education and promoting better math and science training in the underprivileged youth set, which is where we need to be if we are inspired to go beyond "scientists" who are working to further their own programs instead of training new pioneers of actual problem solvers. The monies for "your" science have been present and accounted for, and in an economic crisis, I seriously doubt there would have been much brilliance in increasing budgets or promoting drastic change in a field seen largely as one that could be put on the back burner for awhile. I mean, if we did actually have some sort of breakthrough, would we be able to fund any mobilization around it? Especially for something that likes to make the discoveries, then wait for private sector industry to actually "do" something with it? What would have been the point, considering that jobs were hard enough to find over the last 4 years? Have you considered that scientific 'breakthroughs" would likely take the usual 10 or 15 years to affect public policy and another 10 years to build some sort of public application for it? In this economy? I realize, of course, you are making a strict comparison, stacking the coins up side-by-side and looking to see which stack is higher.... oh wait, that's only what the title of the article said - it isn't what you actually did. Unbiased? Somebody better check your research.

    I believe the focus has been on science education and promoting better math and science training in the underprivileged youth set
    Well, no.  Under No Child Left Behind girls and boys had parity in math for the first time in history and minority scores went way up - and No Child Left Behind was created in a bipartisan vote and had more popularity than the war in Iraq.  So if promoting math and science training for minorities were the issue, President Obama would not have gutted the program.   Yet he did, because teacher unions wanted it. 

    Your other questions are fine ones, but still filtered through the notion that the private sector does nothing except make short term technology.  Bell Labs, 3M, Xerox, IBM have done no research?  That is completely wrong.  Basic research as a larger government endeavor is a recent phenomenon and it did not happen because the private sector stopped funding it, it happened because the government wants greater control of what gets funded. The private sector is happy to let government take over more basic research because they then have 300 million taxpayers funding failures instead of just their stockholders but they still get the winners.

    But even if you want to use basic research as a metric, who doubled the NIH and funded the Human Genome Project?  Republicans. Yet in corporate science media and partisan blogging all we ever hear about is Bush's moral objection to hESC research.  That's the 84% majority at work, not objectivity.
    Obviously your points are good ones, but there is more to increasing focus on science education besides "no child left behind." The fact that females increased their science scores shows not so much money being spent on "science" as it shows that sexual/gender equality issues and social norms in the schools are altering the previous curve that showed girls' math and science scores dropping dramatically after the onset of puberty between the apx ages of 9-13? Given that the specific materials used to teach didn't really change, and the fact that teachers' salaries and numbers actually either stayed the same or declined, I contentiously doubt that such programs have the real effect -and may also explain why they failed to exert any persuasions on the Administration's commitment to the programs. Likewise, in civil matters particularly, why would you keep applying the same minds and programs that created the problem to something that is clearly so deeply in need of change? I contend the potential reason, likewise, for those improvements is at least somewhat affected by more people at home instead of at work, and so spending more time with their kids and their education? Bell Labs, 3M, Xerox, and IBM have done research with government funding. Do you happen to know what their specific R&D budgets are, and how those budgets are funded - what proportion is through gov't grants and funded research? (I don't; my analysis of corporate financial statements has been less this year than it was 2 years there may be a hole there.) There is more to science and scientific programs than what is encompassed by the usual and regularly pass-through grant funding to large companies and universities. I did not intend and don't think I made any assertion that "the private sector does nothing except make short-term technology." In fact, there are plenty of companies that invest in long-term projects with a long-term goal - unfortunately, most of the government money goes to those very large endeavors (perhaps rightfully so), where the perception is "no change" and de rigeur, while the bustle of many funded smaller projects might be perceived as more activity. Particularly in the last 4 years, the access to capital for private industry outside of grants and A-1 credit with a 3-5 year active profit statement, have been nearly impossible to acquire. Reality on the outside is there isn't much investment happening in new science by new players because the banks aren't loaning money to risk-laden enterprise for any reason. The government has had to exert pressure on the loans that it was able to corral and present - and as I said, when it comes to divvying up scarce resource that's being expended on areas bleeding more heavily (or sucking more profits), the perceived luxury of science is one of the first to be laid on the sacrificial alter. It's amazing we had ANY science dollars appropriated in the last 4 years, if you really stop and think about it. Perhaps that is where my position here is faulty. However, as you point out, in politics, it is perception that rules, and by extension, it is perceptions (perhaps such as mine), that also allow and clear the way for funding and financial commitment to such endeavors. To pin it, even associatively, as you seem to do, on "Obama," smacks of a purposeful slant in order to get your paid for point across. Of course, maybe it's my assumption that you're getting paid to write this. I don't mean to be argumentive - as a fellow scientist, we likely agree on the underlying figures. I think the argument here is on isolating the variables that seem to be included and omitted in your presented thoughts - and "the private sector is happy to let government..." comment, I think is way off. As a member of the private sector engaged in promoting and developing social programs through science I am of the opinion that this "300 million taxpayers" premise is the attitude of government and scientists who have those fat dollars coming into their work - I assure you that the "private sector" that I know and am a part of, doesn't want the government intrusion - we just want to make the government dollars to be spent on things that will actually work. Those government programs are usually nothing without enhancements and direct applications from other complimentary programs and services that seldom receive money from the government. Nice discussion - thanks!