From the Archives: The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney

Dec 04 2010 Published by under book review, culture of science, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of The Republican War on Science, is from January 24, 2007.

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The is a fine and necessary book, one that uncovers a lot of history and a lot of current events that I certainly didn't know about. Being a Canadian, however, there was probably a bit more nitty gritty detail about various political maneuverings than I really felt I needed to know. It makes me wish in a way for a somewhat smaller book, say 150 pages of text rather than the 269 presented here (the rest is end notes, index, etc.), maybe titled The Republican War on Science for Canadians, complete with little glossaries sprinkled throughout reminding us that Red is conservative and Blue is liberal rather than the reverse here in Soviet Canuckistan.

Anyways, back to the task at hand. Like I said, I really appreciated the thoroughness of this book, the way it tackled Republican meddling in scientific circles in the last several decades. The way it didn't stint on criticizing the Democrats when the deserved it and praising moderate Republicans when they deserved it too. The book starts very positively with a detailed taxonomy of the different ways science can be abused, from undermining science itself to error and misrepresentation to magnifying uncertainties. This taxonomy not only appealed to the librarian in me, but gave an real map to the rest of the book, laying out the ways in which Mooney would approach and analyze his topic.

Mooney takes us on a quick tour of the Republican administrations from FDR to Nixon, followed by a bit more information on Reagan where the issues were creationism, Star Wars, Gingrich's campaign against the Office of Technology Assessment and for "sound science." Next up, he tackles the beginning of the battles against global warming and the EPA, also under Gingrich. Big Tobacco and the food industry's war on our waistlines are covered in the next couple of chapters. The Endangered Species Act is covered in chapter 10. The religiously motivated attacks on evolution, stem cell research and research into sexual and reproductive health issues are tackled in the next few chapters. The final chapter looks in some detail at the attitudes of the current administration, notably on climate change. The conclusion brings in all together; I found it particularly interesting how Mooney draws a parallel between postmodern critiques of the scientific worldview and the Republican penchant for ignoring the "reality-based" community of scientists.

So, in the final analysis I appreciated the opportunity to read this book, to plunge my mind into the depths that to which politics can sink. How relevant is the book still? Well, the current Republican administration is in its lame duck phase so the worst may be over. On the other hand, the Democrats also seem to want to curry favour with the religious element, which may mitigate some of the positives. As well, Canada has an ideologically conservative government right now as well, one that looks south for inspiration. The lessons learned by pro-science advocates in the US may prove to be all too relevant to us here in Canada.

A final note: Chris Mooney's blog is here, and the site for the book, here.

Mooney, Chris. The Republican War on Science New York: Basic, 2006. 357pp. Revised and updated edition. ISBN-13: 978-0465046768

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