It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Bush administration is not entirely popular with scientists. The Independent tells us that more than four thousand of them have signed a petition by the Union of Concerned Scientists demanding an improvement.
“Successful application of science has played a large part in the policies that have made the United States the world’s most powerful nation, and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy,” the report says. “Although scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should always be weighed from an objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous consequences. Indeed, this principle has long been adhered to by presidents and administrations of both parties in forming and implementing policies. The administration of George Bush has, however, disregarded this principle.”
A good point, but of course the Bushies aren’t going to care. They care about other things, and petitions from however many scientists don’t seem like the kind of thing that will change their minds. A loud voice from the clouds might, but probably nothing short of that.
What has transpired, Lewis Lapam noted recently in Harper’s Magazine, which he edits, has been “the systematic substitution of ideological certainty for reasonable doubt across the entire spectrum of issues bearing on the public health and welfare… [a] rejection of the scientific method in favour of the conviction that if the science doesn’t prove what it’s been told to prove, then the science has been tampered with by Satan or the Democratic Party”.
Just so. And it’s not (obviously) only the trendy academic left that goes in for that kind of thing, even though it’s the trendy academic left we’ve mostly chosen to pick on. (Because they’re funnier, that’s why. Next question.) That’s a very good point that Lapham makes (the Indy seems to have spelled his name wrong). Woolly people like to accuse science of too much certainty (along with scientism), but it’s ideologues (and, often, woolly people) who really go in for certainty, who take belief to be something like parental or romantic love, something you’re supposed to commit to unconditionally and never under any circumstances change your mind about. Individual scientists of course can make that mistake, but science as a discipline quickly slaps them upside the head and makes them stop. Ideology smiles sweetly and says ‘Well done.’