Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Republican Lysenkoism

Stalin had a view of reality similar to George Bush's. He didn't have much use for science. He believed that magical thinking could be made real through the application of rose-colored glasses tinted propaganda to paint a more doctrinally desirable reality. And if that didn't work, at least for Stalin, then putting people into prison who pointed out that the painted world was not the real thing did work, at least for a while.

To be sure, the Republicans have not achieved a sufficient combination of police state power and reckless disregard for true descriptions of the actual physical world that they put scientists into prison--yet--for doing good science.

Presently, though, they are doing the best they can with the tools they have available, which, though more limited than Stalin's, are perhaps a little more sophisticated.

Rather than establish a mad commissar of scientific misrule, like Lysenko, they find it more expedient to insinuate scientific censors into the various government agencies to edit and, um, guide, reports prepared by government scientists, as we see in the New York Times's report today on Philip Cooney's redaction of scientific reports on global warming.

Mr. Cooney is a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, who seems to have decided to become the Republican version of an environmentalist, and is now chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Now the government has another office, a scientific one, called the Climate Change Science Program, which issues reports, written by real scientists, on the state of climate research. Mr. Cooney is a lawyer with no scientific background.

Somehow, Mr. Cooney's job became one of guiding the reports of government climate research, so as to make it appear that there is uncertainty about whether global warming is real, and to minimize the need for mitigation strategies.

The New York Times gives specific instances of his guidance, which is lawyerly and subtle, but which has the effect of altering the meaning of the reports from that intended by those scientists who wrote the first drafts, to a meaning acceptable to the White House, in the final report.

Clearly this is preferable to sending scientists to Siberia, or Guantanamo, but you gotta wonder--what the hell are these people thinking?

Do they think Republicans are immune to the laws of nature? Do they think that by refusing to look at disaster till it occurs, that they will themselves be exempted from its ill effects? I can understand a fisherman, enmeshed in the tragedy of the commons that led to the destruction of the Grand Banks cod fishery, insisting that nothing was wrong, when the fisherman realizes that if you admit that something is wrong, that his livelihood will probably have to change. Of course his livelihood changed anyway, when the collapse occurred. I can understand a politician who depends on the votes of the fishermen going along with the game, to get votes.

But would be hard to understand the government knowingly altering scientific reports of the impending problem--especially at a stage when something could still be done to head off catastrophe.

Altering the report doesn't change the underlying reality. (I can see a Republican reality guidance counselor here adding the words "does it?" to the preceding sentence.) But putting a question mark into a sentence doesn't do a thing, except make it harder to deal with the problem.

The scientific consensus is that global warming is real, and caused by human activities. Even if there are fifty years of Republican rule, it will get warmer for everyone, including Republicans, during that fifty years. Magical thinking doesn't change that. Stalin's crops failed, thanks in no small part to Lysenkoism. Altering the five-year reports didn't fool anyone, or feed anyone.

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