Thursday, November 20, 2008
Conservatives and Science
This letter arrived in response to my bloggingheads dialogue with Brink Lindsey. Name and affiliation posted with permission of the author:
I find it astonishing that conservatives can discuss the election results and their path back to power without addressing the right wing's increasing estrangement from science. Religious conservatives have refused to acknowledge that evolution is the cornerstone of biological sciences and that the earth and universe are billions of years old, Free market enthusiasts have denied the efficacy and necessity of the Clean Air Act’s protections of the environment and human health. They have also refused to acknowledge Reagan’s leadership role in protecting the stratospheric ozone layer and the successes of the Montreal Protocol in addressing this global problem. It is genuinely difficult to find an adult discussion of climate change on any conservative web site. Conservatives find themselves arrayed against the National Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the Academies of Science of many countries.
Science was transformed into a partisan affair by Gingrich et al.. Prior to that time, many Republicans could be counted upon as realists concerning nature. Lincoln signed the legislation founding the National Academy of Science. T. Roosevelt established rule-making agencies that valued scientific expertise above political influence. Nixon founded the EPA and was important in passing the Clear Air Act, Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. He appointed Ruckelshaus as EPA’s initial director. The major steps to protect the stratospheric ozone layer were made with the conscious leadership of Reagan and Bush I. Now Republican candidates are required to nod in the direction of creationism and the young earth. McCain’s brave stand acknowledging the reality of climate change cost him dearly among the most partisan Republicans. They stayed home.
Your own conversation is market obsessed. You acknowledge that markets have won the most important arguments and that even Democrats understand this. The Wall fell and the planned economies blew away with the dust. Even bleeding-heart liberals support micro- credit as a most effective form of foreign aid. But the “Market Alone Explains Progress” narrative overlooks the contribution of technology. Malthus was wrong in each generation because scientists made him wrong. The Markets First crowd has no understanding or appreciation of how science and technology produced the practices that permitted the astonishing growth of the last three centuries. So, when the findings of science are found to be inconvenient by the advocates of utterly free markets, they kneecap the scientists.
I was trained by conservative scientists who worked under a Republican administered EPA to establish the scientific foundations for the Clean Air Act regulations that have saved thousands of lives. I studied ozone depletion under Reagan. Now, practitioners who follow the data are slandered by Conservatives. 200 countries have ratified the Montreal Protocol. The world’s turn away from the release of CFCs has clearly resulted in arresting the decreases in ozone that triggered the Protocol. Poor Rush and his minions are unable to acknowledge this fundamental fact. They use Montreal Protocol as a slur. The Right Wing is estranged from both science and reality. Educated Americans are increasingly seeing a Republican Party that will lie about science to satisfy dogmatists and ideologues. Increasingly science and technology are defining the environment within which the market and policy must succeed. You are losing those who understand this century. How can Republicans rebuild their winning coalition when they insist that its members deny physical reality?
James Charles Wilson
John Evans Professor
Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
University of Denver
11/20 11:56 AM