Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mooney in Madison: The Republican War on Science

Chris Mooney, Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and a senior correspondent for the American Prospect, stopped by the University of Wisconsin Tuesday to promote the updated paperback of The Republican War on Science. After his talk we had a hard time finding a bar downtown that was not completely deserted, but ultimately we were successful.

Mooney is one of the very few writers in D.C. at the moment who understand the importance of successful strategic communication about emerging technologies, and who is able to articulate this message very succinctly. We are not just seeing a “war” on science by some policy makers, but we are also seeing attempts on both sides of the aisle to reframe scientific issues around moral values and belief systems of the respective political bases.

Frank Luntz has has certainly perfected this art of pretesting terminology and visuals and of streamlining the Republican message around key frames that play to very specific underlying schema among voters (see excerpt from one of his memos on the right). But the Democrats are trying hard to catch up and rally around their current campaign guru of choice, George Lakoff. In spite of the book’s partisan title, much of what Mooney talks about in this new edition therefore applies to the intersection of science and politics more broadly.

And of course “The Republican War on Science” talks about much more than just communication. Or as Boyce Rensberger put it in his book review for the Scientific American:

“Chris Mooney [is] one of the few journalists in the country who specialize in the now dangerous intersection of science and politics. His book is a well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists. Mooney's chronicle of what he calls "science abuse" begins in the 1970s with Richard Nixon and picks up steam with Ronald Reagan. But both pale in comparison to the current Bush administration, which in four years has:

- Rejected the scientific consensus on global warming and suppressed an EPA report supporting that consensus.

- Stacked numerous advisory committees with industry representatives and members of the religious Right.

- Begun deploying a missile defense system without evidence that it can work.

- Banned funding for embryonic stem cell research except on a claimed 60 cell lines already in existence, most of which turned out not to exist.

- Forced the National Cancer Institute to say that abortion may cause breast cancer, a claim refuted by good studies.

- Ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remove information about condom use and efficacy from its Web site.”