The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney

Climate change - hey, it's just a hoax
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The Independent Culture

But it's hard to savage science directly in the most technologically advanced society in human history. Even the most vehement enemies of scientific progress travel in cars, broadcast their ideas over the internet, and head for the hospital the moment they fall ill. These attacks must travel in disguise, posing not as anti-science but as alternative scientific theories. That's why the Christian jihadists have created "flood geology" - a theory outlined in supposedly scientific papers "proving" that Noah's flood laid down the fossil record and carved out the Grand Canyon. That's why the corporate vandals have funded and created a sub-division of climatology denying the plain truth that rising CO2 emissions are causing global warming. Chris Mooney, a liberal investigative journalist, has bravely decided to thwack his way into this jungle of propaganda and lies on our behalf.

Faced with a scientific consensus warning that the people of the United States are taking the lead in destabilising the very habitat upon which our species depends, the response of Republicans has been to pocket cash from the petrol companies, censor the evidence and attack the scientists. When the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report in 2003 sounding the alarm about global warming, the Bush administration's response was to delete graphs, play up the doubts, and insert references to the work of scientist-stooges funded by oil companies.

James Inhofe, the Senator for Oklahoma, is probably the Republican Party's leading environmental spokesman, and he describes man-made climate change as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people". That's right: he says it is a conscious conspiracy involving almost the entire scientific community, most of the USA's own climatologists, the United Nations, and that well-known America-hater Tony Blair.

Even the handful of contrarian scientists Inhofe constantly cites have repudiated him. Tom Wigley, a meteorologist whose work Inhofe cited in a major speech, condemned his "selective use of scientific information, his misrepresentation of much of the scientific evidence on global warming, and his misrepresentation of my own published work in particular". The only "scientists" Inhofe can now use to back up his theories are funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

Mooney says Inhofe's role is to "manufacture uncertainty". He convinces Americans there is a "scientific controversy" where there is none, and makes Bush look like a compromiser because he adopts a position only slightly less crazy than Inhofe's. I was beginning to find Mooney's account of this intellectual and financial corruption bleakly comic, until he referred in passing to the risk global warming poses to his home town, New Orleans. This prediction has come true far sooner than Mooney imagined.

Mooney's discussion of the reopened Scopes Trial that is being staged across America is no less enraging. Creationists have largely given up claiming that the world was created 6,000 years ago, and that the dinosaurs were somehow squeezed into Noah's Ark two-by-two. Instead, they have given their theories a scientific sheen and marketed them as "Intelligent Design Theory" (ID). It's disarmingly simple: they say living organisms show detectable signs of having been created by a rational agent. Some natural phenomena are so inherently complex - like DNA or the human eye - that they could not have evolved in stages; they could only ever work as a complete system, created in one fell swoop.

There's only one problem: there are no credible scientific journals that back ID. None. It is not science. Mooney explains: "As an account of the origin and history of life, ID doesn't have any meat to it. It doesn't provide any details that scientists might confirm or refute through future experimentation. And most crucially of all, it doesn't explain or predict anything, a key requirement for successful scientific theories. As three of Meyer's scientific critics noted, 'An unknown intelligent designer did something, somewhere, somehow, for no apparent reason' is not a model."

ID repeatedly makes category errors, importing non-scientific thought into supposedly scientific theories. They assume, for example, that every apparent hole in the theory of Darwinian evolution (in fact, all easily explained) is evidence of a divine being. They talk about "a God of the gaps", a creator who appears in every blank spot in the fossil record.

Mooney offers the definitive judgement on this: "They actually hope to radically redefine the very nature of scientific inquiry, smuggling assumptions about the supernatural into the very fabric of research and turning science into something much closer to pre-Enlightenment philosophy. The advances of modern science have relied on a 'naturalistic' methodology, one that assumes continuous causal processes rather than supernatural interventions. The Discovery Institute [a group spearheading ID] has a radical agenda of reconstituting a religious imbued science represents an assault on modern science itself."

The journalist Katha Pollit proposes a brilliant solution: any American who does not believe in evolution should be denied medical treatments dependent on evolution for their effectiveness. Flu vaccines only work because scientists know the virus is constantly evolving - so the looming avian flu epidemic will wipe out any truly committed creationists. Then the war so disturbingly described by Mooney might finally be over.