A mild defense of Chris Mooney’s war on science
David Bruggeman recently attacked Chris Mooney yet again for promoting the war on science meme: the concept is meaningless, incoherent, oversimplified, etc. Dan Sarewitz echoed many these arguments in his review of Mooney’s book.
I also found Chris Mooney’s thesis irritating and sloppy. His constant, unadulterated worship of science gets old very quickly. But it’s important to acknowledge that Mooney has a point. George W. Bush’s administration did politicize science a lot more than his predecessors. Since my placement at the EPA started in September, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard complaints about Bush’s interference. Despite some over-generalizations, Mooney collected a troubling body of evidence.
Complaining only about the former problem implies that abstract concerns–how dare Mooney not discuss social construction!–matter more than real world impact. Can we honestly say that distorting EPA reports is no worse than believing in value-free science? Ironically enough, this attitude makes us STS-sympathizers just like those academic scientists we routinely berate.
So yes, everyone does misuse science for their own ends. And yes, Mooney annoyingly promotes a false purity of science. In the end Bush’s actions were different only in degree, not kind, from previous administrations. Agreeing with all this, however, is perfectly compatible with condemning his egregious politicization. It’s possible to be upset at the exaggerations and distortions of both Chris Mooney and George Bush. Bruggeman’s and Sarewitz’s worthy attempts to bring nuance to policy debates unfortunately spends too much time on the former and not enough on the latter.