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Chris Mooney on 'The Republican War on Science'

In his new book The Republican War on Science, journalist Chris Mooney contends that the Bush administration has distorted research and misinformed the public on issues ranging from stem-cell research to global warming. The motivation, Mooney argues, is political power.

30:24

Other segments from the episode on September 15, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 15, 2005: Interview with Chris Mooney; Interview with Robert Walker.

Transcript

DATE September 15, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Journalist Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican War
on Science," contends that the Bush administration has misinformed
the public with distorted science in order to gain political power
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. In the new book "The Republican War on
Science," my guest, Chris Mooney, charges that the Bush administration
downplays or ignores scientific evidence pertaining to issues like global
warming, stem cell research, evolution, condom effectiveness and other issues
because of business or religious considerations. Mooney is a journalist who
writes about the intersection of science and politics. He's a senior
correspondent for The American Prospect and Washington correspondent for Seed
magazine, which covers science and culture.

You describe Republicans in general and the Bush administration in particular
as waging a war on science, and you argue that this war is coming from two
directions. One is from business and the other is from the religious right.
What is the motivation and strategy of each as you see it? Let's start with
the business end.

Mr. CHRIS MOONEY (The American Prospect; Seed Magazine; Author, "The
Republican War on Science"): Well, I would actually say that the war on
science is quite opportunistic, and so there's no central technique that's
being employed. Rather, a variety of techniques are being employed to attack
information that people don't like. But actually one strategy that is quite
common is the use of think tanks in order to create, quote, "expertise" that
is in contrast to mainstream scientific expertise as articulated by
university-based scientists. So this is something that you see quite
strongly, for example, on the issue of global warming, where conservatives
have their own experts, and they're often based at think tanks rather than in
the academy.

GROSS: Why is that a problem for you, that there are conservative think
tanks?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, because they're often distorting the information or
attacking the scientific consensus view on climate change, which is that
humans are causing the problem now. That would be a good example. And on the
evolution example, to switch to the conservative Christian or religious right
constituency, we see something very similar where you have the Seattle-based
Discovery Institute, which is leading the charge against evolution. And
these are both very firmly established scientific views, and they are
mainstream consensus positions endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences
and other respected bodies. But the right has created its own politicized
sources of expertise, and then this is how science gets politicized, because
politicians appoint themselves to say, `I'm going to pick my own scientists
rather than listening to a broader consensus position.'

GROSS: You also say that there--that a lot of people are using the word `good
science' or `sound science'...

Mr. MOONEY: Right.

GROSS: ...to actually oppose the scientific community. And an example, you
say, is happening within the efforts to minimize the importance of global
warming.

Mr. MOONEY: `Sound science' is a PR phrase that the right uses to describe
something very different than good science. When you look at how sound
science is used, what it seems to mean, as far as I can tell--There's no
official definition; there's just a lot of politicians and interest groups
using it--but it seems to mean science with a high burden of proof, and you
don't take action until you have a high burden of proof satisfied. The
problem with that, of course, is that's a policy decision, and sometimes if
you wait to satisfy a specific, very high scientific criterion, the problem
may already have gotten out of control.

So on global warming, this is actually using the phrase `sound science' as
part of the talking points that have been put forward for Republican
politicians by pollster Frank Luntz for talking about the environment, and
actually in the Luntz memo, a kind of infamous document telling Republicans
how to talk about the environment, not only does he advise using the phrase
`sound science,' but when you look at what that means on global warming, it
means continue to attack the science and find your own experts to dispute the
mainstream view. So that's what sound science apparently means there.

GROSS: So you're saying that this is a technique to keep saying all of the
evidence isn't good enough, so you have to keep proving it further and proving
it further, thus delaying regulatory action.

Mr. MOONEY: Right. Phrases have been used like `manufacturing uncertainty'
or `paralysis by analysis.' I think are both good descriptions of what's
going on here.

GROSS: There's actually a group called The Sound Science Caucus in Congress
led by Chris Cannon of Utah. What is their goal?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, I don't know how active a group this is. Certainly it was
announced--it's very interesting. If you go to the Web site of--Cannon's Web
site--and the Western Caucus of the House of Representatives also talks about
sound science, and they actually talk about what they mean by sound science in
public policy. And specifically I think they're talking about the Endangered
Species Act, and they say that environmental laws should require a high burden
of proof. And again, this is not a scientific position because you'll find
that within regulatory agencies using science, sometimes you have to use what
science you have to take action immediately in a precautionary way because if
you don't act, the problem could get worse. And so that is a policy judgment
about how much of a precautionary angle you take. The problem is that the
right claims that its notion--they don't like precautionary decisions using
science. They claim that that's a scientific position. It's not. It's a
policy position to delay action, and they don't define what they're doing
properly. They're--that's why they're misusing science.

GROSS: You basically accuse the Bush administration of having a double
standard for science depending on whether they want an initiative to pass or
they want to delay it. An example that you use is the Bush administration's
support of the ballistic missile defense vs. its position on, say, global
warming.

Mr. MOONEY: Right.

GROSS: How would you compare how the Bush administration has used scientific
evidence in both of those cases?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, science is always characterized by uncertainty.
Scientific conclusions are by their very nature tentative, subject to
revision. This is, I think, a strength of science. But what happens in the
hands of political actors is that uncertainty is frequently used to get what
you want. So the Bush administration will selectively site the remaining
uncertainty in global warming in the global warming account and use that in
order to delay action. Ironically, there's tons of uncertainty about whether
missile defense can actually work, and yet they're willing to stampede ahead
with that program. So they have shifting standards for the role of--that
scientific uncertainty should play in justifying a decision.

GROSS: Now so how do scientists talk about uncertainty when making the case
for global warming, when saying that global warming is a phenomenon that does
exist and may affect our future on Earth pretty dramatically? There is
uncertainty surrounding that. How do scientists write about that uncertainty?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, if you look at the studies, I think that they generally
characterize it pretty clearly. You'll get something like `this conclusion is
very likely.' And then there'll be a footnote saying, `We consider very
likely to be in the 90 to 99 percent certainty range.' So they actually try
their best to attach a range of percents to the strength of the conclusions
that they have.

GROSS: But the scientists would say that the evidence is strong enough to
proceed with action...

Mr. MOONEY: Oh, yes.

GROSS: ...to prevent further global warming.

Mr. MOONEY: Yes. They can't say that it's 100 percent certain, but they
will say that it's quite strong at this point. And if you wait for that
evidence--if you wait, you may never get 100 percent. If you wait, then the
problem could just be getting worse, and that's the problem. And, you know, I
mean, there's uncertainty throughout science. Evolution, for example,
extraordinarily well-established in the scientific community, and yet there
are uncertainties there. There are many things that happened millions of
years ago that we can't give you a direct, perfect account of how it played
out. And yet the evidence supporting evolutionary explanation is staggering.

GROSS: So you are arguing that when politicians don't want to move forward
with an initiative for political or economic or religious reasons, that they
will exploit the uncertainties that scientists have, even that--even if that
margin of uncertainty is very narrow.

Mr. MOONEY: Right. They selectively cite uncertainty and they ignore the
mainstream conclusion; whereas, in fact, uncertainty is part of the mainstream
conclusion. And so by exaggerating uncertainty or selectively citing it,
you're misrepresenting what the scientific community knows and has
established.

GROSS: You say that there are certain catch phrases that business or groups
on the religious right have been using to fight the scientific community and
to oppose them. Are there certain phrases you want to call our attention to?

Mr. MOONEY: Definitely. One of the phrases is `sound science.' Another one
is `junk science.' So the right attacks a lot of environmental science by
denouncing it as junk science. The accusations usually, I find, don't
actually add up, and so it's just a catchphrase to denigrate scientific
information that people don't like a lot of the time. Sound science is, in
the right's mind, the alternative to junk science, which, of course, means
that we should be skeptical of what they mean by sound science as well. And
then the new one is `data quality,' which describes the Data Quality Act,
which conservatives are very fond of, which sets up a process in government
whereby industry and special interests can attack scientific information they
don't like. So again, we should be careful about data quality as well.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Chris Mooney. His new book is called "The
Republican War on Science." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Chris Mooney, and
he's the author of the new book "The Republican War on Science."

Now you write about intelligent design in your book, which you describe as a
way to cloak creationism in science. And I think you see intelligent design
as a way to bring creationism into schools after the Supreme Court said in
1987 that creationism couldn't be taught in the supreme schools--in the public
schools because it was actually a religious point of view and therefore
violated the First Amendment.

Mr. MOONEY: That's right. The irony here, of course, is that creationism
has evolved over time in American life in response to legal and political
precedence. So first, going back to the Scopes trial they tried to ban the
teaching of evolution, and the Supreme Court nixed that in 1968. There was a
little problem with the First Amendment. And so then the creationists claimed
that they had creation science and that it should be taught as an alternative
to evolution, and the Supreme Court nixed that in 1987 saying, `You know what?
Your creation science is not science, it's religion.' Again, First Amendment.

Now we have intelligent design, which is the latest version of creationism
appropriating science and masquerading as science, even though it remains
religion and the only difference is that intelligent design is, I would say,
politically slicker and more savvy and contains less actual content that you
can refute or challenge or even make fun of because the creation scientists,
of course, were trying to justify--use geology to show that Noah's flood
happened and they were talking about how Noah could have fit dinosaurs on the
ark and all these sorts of things. So intelligent design people aren't
committed to any of that, but there's not much scientific content to their
view at all.

GROSS: How would you describe the theory of intelligent design?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, I wouldn't describe it as a theory. It's sort a
philosophical conjecture at best. It's the notion that living things are too
complex to explain through a mindless or directionless process and that,
therefore, a designer is required to explain them. This is an old
philosophical argument that's been around forever, and I don't believe that
this is scientific for the following reason. You cannot study who the
designer is, how the designer operates, why the designer operates. And
frankly, if the designer is meddling and interfering with the history of life
over and over again, you also can't study why the designer couldn't get it
right the first time.

Another question is: Who designed the designer? All of these questions are
completely unanswerable by science, which means you cannot--there's no data
and you cannot get two scientists to independently agree on the answer.
That's why it remains in the realm of philosophical or metaphysical
speculation.

GROSS: Now President Bush has said that he thinks intelligent design should
be taught with evolution in the public schools, quote, "so people can
understand what the debate is about," unquote. And he said, quote, "I think
that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought.
You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas,
and the answer is yes." What's your critique of that response?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, you don't just teach any conjecture that someone has come
up with in science class. There has to be a vetting process to establish what
is actually accepted by the scientific community. Intelligent design doesn't
pass the standard. I mean, think about it. We don't teach magic alongside
physics. We don't teach the stork theory of birth in sex ed class. The 21st
century is projected and expected to see dramatic advances in biology and
biotechnology. We are undermining our competitiveness if we systematically
misinform students about the fundamental theory of biology, which is
evolution.

GROSS: So you're arguing in your book that science is facing opposition on
two fronts now under the Bush administration. One is from business, from
certain businesses or certain people within those businesses, that don't want
to undergo further government regulation and, therefore, they're arguing
certain scientific premises like global warming.

Mr. MOONEY: Or they're attacking the science, yeah.

GROSS: Or they're attacking the science. And at the same time, science is
getting attacked by certain religious groups that disagree with science and
prefer a more biblical-based point of view.

Mr. MOONEY: Or the religious groups actually might want to appropriate
science as a way of--a stealth way of achieving what is really their moral
end. A great example of this is in the embryonic stem cell area where
religious conservatives, they think embryonic stem cell research is immoral.
They think it's murder because embryos are destroyed in the process. Do they
argue that? Yes, but you know what they also argue? They also argue that
there's a scientific alternative to embryonic stem cell research. They hold
up adult stem cell research and they say, `We don't need to proceed with
embryonic work because adult stem cells will give us everything that we need.'
Scientifically--specifically scientific argument rejected by the National
Institutes of Health, the International Society for Stem Cell Research. So,
again, they come up with this scientific outlier argument and they use it to
advance their political goals. And that's why science is being abused.

GROSS: How well do you think science is fighting back against what you
perceive as a war on science?

Mr. MOONEY: Scientists have started to get really outraged, and they're doing
a good job speaking out. They might do more. The key moment was February
2004 when the Union of Concerned Scientists brought together a very
distinguished cast of scientific luminaries and former science policy-makers
from previous administrations--and this included 20 Nobel
laureates--denouncing systematic abuses of information by the Bush
administration on a wide range of issues, and that really caught people's
attention.

I think the scientific community needs to remain involved and engaged. What
I'd like to see is the university community specifically get involved more in
these fights. I think university presidents should be standing up for the
teaching of evolution. I think there should be a college-level scientific
integrity movement. If we can't defend scientific inquiry in colleges, where
can we defend it?

GROSS: Now President Bush's science adviser, John Marburger, is a former
university president. He's the former president of the State University of
New York at Stony Brook. What is your evaluation of his performance as
science adviser? Where do you see him as fitting in in this war on science?

Mr. MOONEY: The scientific community and the Union of Concerned Scientists
and many others have documented clear cases in which science has been
distorted and abused in the service of political goals by the Bush
administration. I have looked into these and substantiated many of them in my
own book. Dr. Marburger has pretty much flatly denied the allegations and,
unfortunately, in flatly denying them, he often doesn't really tackle the real
issue. And so this is really too bad. And I just--I don't know--I can't tell
you what's going through Dr. Marburger's head.

I can tell you this: Dr. Marburger spoke out very strongly in defense of the
teaching of evolution. He has called it, I believe, the bedrock of biology,
and he has said that intelligent design is not science. And yet when the
president came out for the teaching of intelligent design, there was Marburger
defending the president. I don't understand how this is possible. I think
Marburger sees it as his job to defend the administration rather than
scientific integrity, and I think that's unfortunate.

GROSS: Now you're a journalist and your specialty is covering the
intersection of science and politics. You're critical of a lot of science
journalists and you write that `reporters need to understand how science
abusers exploit the journalistic norm of balance.' What do you mean?

Mr. MOONEY: Sure. There's--very common in journalistic coverage is an
approach that I might call `he-said, she-said, we're clueless.' It's an
approach in which the journalist abdicates their responsibility to, at least
to some extent, evaluate the credibility of competing claims. So there may be
some science debates where there's an actual debate and in which, you know,
you don't know which side is right, there's very credible people on either
side and you probably should balance your account there. But the problem is
on something like global warming or evolution, what you find is that there's a
strategic attempt to create a controversy for political reasons that does not
exist within the scientific community. And when journalists apply the
balanced approach in their coverage of these topics, what they are doing is
aiding and abetting the strategy of the people who are abusing science. So
they need to be aware of this. I think journalists are becoming increasingly
aware of it. I'd like to see more, and so I hope that that will happen.

GROSS: So basically what you say in your book is that things that you would
describe as pseudoscience are given equal weight to science in the attempt to
be fair to both sides?

Mr. MOONEY: Right. I don't always like to use the word pseudoscience
because it's been challenged on the philosophical level in terms of whether we
can actually determine what is pseudoscience and what isn't. Rather, it's
when there is a clearly established mainstream scientific consensus view in
the scientific community, that's a very powerful thing. It's been established
over a long period of time, independent investigators have all reached
agreement and it's been thoroughly vetted by the scientific community. In
that situation where there is no controversy occurring in scientific journals,
which is, of course, the venue where scientists debate scientific ideas--and
that is the case especially for evolution; there's really no controversy in
scientific journals--then the press should not be involved in constructing an
artificial controversy that does not exist. They should not be
misrepresenting the science to their readers. Now they should write about a
political controversy, but they should clearly characterize the state of
scientific understanding as they cover the politics.

GROSS: Chris Mooney is the author of "The Republican War on Science." He'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Chris Mooney, author of
"The Republican War on Science." And we get a response from former Congressman
Robert Walker. He's the former Republican chair of the House Committee on
Science during the 2000 presidential campaign. He served as George W. Bush's
adviser on science, faith and technology.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Chris Mooney, author of the new
book "The Republican War on Science." The book makes the case that the Bush
administration, and the right in general, tried to alter or slant the results
of science based on political or religious considerations. Mooney is a
journalist who covers the intersection of science and politics. He's a senior
correspondent for the American Prospect and Washington correspondent for Seed
magazine.

I want to talk a little bit about the hurricane. You are from New Orleans;
you grew up there.

Mr. MOONEY: That's right.

GROSS: Your parents still live there; your brother--well, your parents had
lived there. They're not there at the moment.

Mr. MOONEY: Right. We don't know if they're going back or when.

GROSS: And your brother, too.

Mr. MOONEY: Yeah. My brother's a jazz musician, so he's hit the hardest by
this. He has--you know, he's lost his musical community in a sense.

GROSS: You wrote a piece last May about the possibility of a major hurricane
and how it could destroy the city. Let me quote a little bit about what you
wrote. You wrote about how a storm could generate a 20-foot surge that would
overwhelm the levees, and your said, quote, "Soon, the geographical bowl of
the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those
unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops, terrain they
would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes and perhaps
alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage,
gasoline, refinery chemicals and debris."

Well, this article you wrote in May turned out to be, you know, a pretty close
description of what's actually happened in New Orleans. When you wrote that,
did you really believe that you would actually witness this just a few months
later?

Mr. MOONEY: Not a few months later, but I knew that the big one would come
eventually, and I was actually lobbying my family to pay attention to this.
And my brother, at my advice, did buy flood insurance for his home only a few
months before it happened. So that was great that I had that effect.

Unfortunately, people like me and, of course, the scientists that I relied
upon to report that story--it wasn't hard to find this information. There
have been scientists who have been fretting about this for years.
Unfortunately, my brother listened, but political leaders didn't listen when
they could have a long time ago and they might have launched a major
engineering project to strengthen the hurricane protections of New Orleans. I
think it's unacceptable to potentially lose an American city. I think that we
should have spared no expense, but unfortunately we did not.

GROSS: In your book "The Republican War on Science," you talk about the role
of conservative think tanks in arguing against scientific consensus on certain
issues. What are a couple of those issues, and how--what is the approach of
the think tanks? Why do you think they're important in this?

Mr. MOONEY: The think tanks are important because in order for Republican
politicians to cherry-pick scientific expertise that supports their political
views, they got to be able to point to a couple of experts that agree with
them. And once that contrary expertise exists, then it's much easier for
science to become politicized.

So on the global warming issue, there are a number of think tanks that are
supporting the conservative position and they're, in some way, challenging the
science. So--for example, there's the Competitive Enterprise Institute. On
evolution, the central think tank is the Discovery Institute. What is
generally in common about the strategy is that you have a well-established
view that is coming out of university-based science, and this is where I
believe the repository of scientific expertise on issues generally is in this
country. And if you don't like that view, you not only have to attack it, but
you have to generate your own sources of alternative expertise to muddy the
water and attack it. And I think that's one of the reasons that the
politicization of science has become so bad.

GROSS: Are you arguing with the scientists at think tanks' qualifications as
scientists?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, these people are often PhDs, and I'm not saying that they
don't believe what they say. I'm not--that's not the point. The point is
that politicians need to listen to scientific consensus conclusions, not
cherry-pick a couple of outliers because we need the best available science to
serve as the foundation for policy. So it's not that these people don't
necessarily believe what they say; I'm not saying that. It's just that we
can't selectively use information when--you know, with something like global
warming, the world itself may be at stake.

GROSS: You're very critical of the Bush administration's relationship to
science...

Mr. MOONEY: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and its, as you put it, cherry-picking of science. Could you point
to a president that you think had a very productive relationship with science
in a way that you think benefited the nation?

Mr. MOONEY: Sure. Well, first of all, I'm not saying that no other
administration has distorted science, so let's make that clear. I'm just
saying that the Bush administration is doing it systematically and is
dramatically worse than previous administrations, and there's good strong
evidence for that.

An administration that did a great job with science? Let's go back to a
Republican president who was governing the nation at a time of what you might
call scientific crisis, Eisenhower. The Soviets launched Sputnik and the
nation was very concerned about being behind in the space race, in the
technology. Eisenhower brought the scientific community into the White House,
he created the President's Scientific Advisory Council, and this was really
the heroic age, I think, of presidential science advising. It carried on into
the Kennedy administration when it was known that Kennedy's science adviser
Jerome Weisner spoke for the president. So it was bipartisan at that point in
time that science advice was going to play a really strong role in national
policy, and it's really unfortunate that we've lost that.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. MOONEY: Thanks.

GROSS: Chris Mooney is the author of "The Republican War on Science."

We called President Bush's science adviser John Marburger, but we were told he
was unable to schedule an interview with us.

Coming up, we hear from Robert Walker, former Republican chair of the House
Committee on Science. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he advised
George W. Bush on science and technology policy.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Robert Walker discusses the mixture of science and
politics
TERRY GROSS, host:

After speaking with Chris Mooney about his book "The Republican War on
Science," we called Robert Walker. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he
advised George W. Bush on science and technology policy. Walker is a former
congressman from Pennsylvania and was the Republican chair of the House
Committee on Science. He's now chairman of the lobbying group Wexler-Walker
Public Policy Associates.

Chris Mooney's main point in his book, "The Republican War on Science," is
that when it comes to science, the Bush administration is swayed by business
interests on the one hand--business interests which don't want to accept
studies that might lead to more government regulation--and the Bush
administration, on the other hand, is also swayed by Christian groups,
people--you know, groups on the religious right that don't want to accept
science that contradicts their fundamentalist biblical views or that
contradicts their view of morality. That's the basic premise of the book.
What do you have to say to that?

Former Representative ROBERT WALKER (Republican, Pennsylvania; Chairman,
Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates): Well, I think it's nonsense. The
Bush administration has gone overboard to assure that as science is
promulgated that it is appropriately reviewed. Some of the problems we've had
in the past is that scientists had not had the kind of review of their science
that should be done. And in recent years, there has even been suspicion
rise--risen about the various peer review panels that scientists depend upon,
about whether or not some of them have developed a political agenda, in large
part because of the kinds of people who are picked to go on those peer review
panels. And so the Bush administration has attempted to provide better review
of science, but it is nonsense to suggest that scientists are in any way being
handcuffed by a religious right agenda or by a business agenda.

GROSS: Well, what Chris Mooney says to that in his book is that the process
that you're describing is--actually means requiring a higher burden of proof
before action can be taken to protect public health and environment. And, you
know, just like raising a bar to an extent where after scientists are
confident of their report, raising the bar even higher and forcing scientists
to go back again, make more reports, thus just putting off regulation, it--you
know, requiring a higher and higher burden of proof to prevent action from
being taken.

Mr. WALKER: Well, again--I mean, I just don't agree with that at all. The
problem is that if you come from a left-wing perspective then any regulation
which is written is a good thing. The fact is that we are an overregulated
society at the present time, and instead of eliminating regulations as we
promulgate new ones, we simply go on and pile on regulation that, in fact,
undermines the public interest. And so much of what has been here is an
attempt to even reform the overall regulatory agenda so that the regulations
that we have in place really do serve the public interest. And I think that
that's what's ignored by a lot of left-wing writers and politicians who simply
want to grow government bigger and bigger.

GROSS: Now you keep referring to the left, but what a lot of scientists would
say is that science isn't liberal or conservative; science is science.
There's good science and bad science.

Mr. WALKER: Well, the fact is, though, that they pretty much showed their
stripes in this last election when even a lot of the scientific societies in
the personage of their leaders lined up for the Kerry campaign and voiced a
very, very liberal agenda in what they were saying. And so the scientists
themselves hardly fit that definition of who they are.

GROSS: Are you saying that most or all scientists are liberal and, therefore,
we can't trust them?

Mr. WALKER: No. No, I don't say that at all, except that I will say that a
lot of the scientists come out of a lot of the large universities where there
is a basically left-wing political bias on the campus. And scientists in
their science may not see themselves as promoting a political agenda, but they
have, in fact, bought into a political agenda inside the atmosphere in which
they operate.

GROSS: Aren't you saying, in a way, `Well, scientists are at universities,
universities are liberal, scientists are liberal, therefore, everything they
say have to be taken with a grain of salt'? I mean, are you trying to dismiss
science by saying, `No, no, can't trust it'?

Mr. WALKER: No. No, no. No, not at all. Again--I mean, that is an
accusation that gets made and that's not the case at all. But scientists then
have a burden of proof to assure that the peer review that is done of their
science is, in fact, a peer review of science and not with a political bias to
it. During the 1990s, much of the work that was done on global warming, for
example, became highly suspect because it was being done in an atmosphere that
anything that you had to say on the formulation of models for global warming
was almost accepted out of hand by the government because the review panels
did not represent a broad cross-section of the views on that issue.

For example, there were a lot of scientists who spoke out on global warming
during the 1990s who had no credentials as climatologists whatsoever. They
were people--they were social scientists. They were a whole group of
scientists who did not have background in the science to which they were
speaking.

GROSS: Whether that is true--you know, if that is true, that there were
social scientists who spoke out, there were also many climate scientists who
spoke out. And those climate scientists seemed to pretty much be in agreement
that global warming is a major issue and global warming is a result, at least
in part, of human activity.

Mr. WALKER: The climatologists had not come to that conclusion. And if you
look at the broad base of climatologists who have spoken out on the issue,
they have been very circumspect about what they've said. They do believe that
there is a warming trend, but most of them are unwilling at the present time
to say that that trend is a result of some induced activity, that it may well
be a part of larger trends and that that's one of the things that needs to be
investigated.

And that's one of the things where the Bush administration has put a good deal
of money is in trying to figure out just exactly what we're dealing with here.
Are we dealing with multidecadal trends that involve climate being climate, or
are we--do we have a human-related activity which is having a detrimental
impact? And a large portion of the climatology community has not yet come to
that conclusion.

GROSS: Do you think there's a large portion or a minority?

Mr. WALKER: No, I think it's a large portion of climatologists who are not
prepared to say that we have global warming and it is absolutely as a result
of human activity. You know, the Union of Concerned Scientists and some of
the liberal ideology says that, but the climatologists are very, very
reluctant to be put in that kind of a position.

GROSS: You know, when you referred to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the
statement that they issued criticizing the Bush administration for
manipulating science for political ends, that was signed by about 50 Nobel
laureates. Do you feel that all the Nobel laureates' positions should be
dismissed?

Mr. WALKER: Well, look, I don't dismiss anybody's position. You know,
everybody in our society is perfectly capable of taking a political position,
and that's fine. I don't have a problem with people doing that. But let's
understand it's not a science position; it's a political position. The Union
of Concerned Scientists, in their reports, engage in politics. And so do they
have some Nobel laureates who agree with them politically? Yes, they do. But
let's not confuse politics and science on this.

GROSS: One criticism I've heard of the Bush administration that certainly
Chris Mooney makes in his book is that in most scientific studies, there is a
degree of uncertainty because some things are not completely provable. But
when that degree of uncertainty is small, you can still proceed and say that,
`This is proven enough. This is pretty scientifically proven.' You know, you
have to proceed in the face of some degree of uncertainty. What Chris Mooney
says in his book, and what I've heard other scientists say, is that the Bush
administration exploits that small degree of uncertainty and blows it off and
makes it seem like, `Wow, there's so much uncertainty here, how could we
possibly accept this as a conclusion?'

Mr. WALKER: Well, it kind of depends upon the magnitude of what you are
talking about on uncertainty. If you're talking about uncertainty on
relatively small experiments where what you want to do is say, `OK, we've got
enough evidence here to proceed forward and continue to take a look at this,'
that's one thing. If you're talking about uncertainty about, for example,
global warming, where it could be a multihundreds of billions of dollars cost
to our economy that you make a judgment on, then you better make doggone
certain that what you're doing is, in fact, right. And when you see the
models that scientists are depending upon called into question and it could be
a matter of disrupting economy in favor of Europe if you sign on to the Kyoto
Treaty, then you better be a lot more certain of what you've got and those
uncertainties become pretty important.

GROSS: In the 2000 presidential campaign, you advised George W. Bush on
science policy. I'm wondering what you think of the movement now to teach
intelligent design in the schools. Do you think that intelligent design is
good science or is even science?

Mr. WALKER: Well, I don't know. I mean, I'm really not an expert in
intelligent design. I don't think personally that there is anything that is
in conflict between evolutionary theory and the Christian belief that there
was, in fact, a Creator who was responsible for the beginning of the universe.
I think that much of what is in the Bible, and all of what's in the Bible, can
certainly be reconciled with evolutionary theory as I understand it. And
insofar as intelligent design simply allows a better understanding of that
relationship between religion and science, I don't see that there's a huge
conflict there.

GROSS: Do you think that intelligent design should be part of a science
curriculum in public schools, schools that are not religious?

Mr. WALKER: Well, look, I think, on intelligent design, that the only
statement that you have is the president who was asked a question at one
point. It is not something where the administration has gone out and pursued
a policy on this in any way. The president was asked about it and he said,
`Sure, both of them ought to be taught,' and so on. That's the whole basis of
this particular argument. I know of nothing that this administration has done
toward trying to push that into the curriculums of the schools. And in all
honesty, I think school curriculum ought to be left up to the local people who
determine what they want to teach their own kids.

GROSS: But as a science policy adviser, what is your reaction when you hear
the president say that intelligent design should be taught as well as
evolution? I mean...

Mr. WALKER: Well, I mean, again...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WALKER: ...what the president really said was that everybody ought to
have a chance to hear both sides of the argument is essentially what he's
saying. You know, it is not a bad thing intellectually to have challenges in
all areas of life, and so the idea that we completely understand everything
about evolution is highly questionable and I don't think you'd find many
scientists who absolutely believe that we know everything there is to know
about evolution. What we do know is that we've got a long history of
evolutionary trends that have a good deal of science backing to them. Should
people understand that about evolution? Absolutely, they should, and it
should definitely be taught as a part of the curriculum.

But I don't think that evolution ought to be used as a jihad against the
people who deeply believe and have a strong religious faith. And I said
before, I don't believe there's a conflict between the two. But the fact is
there are some people out there who are trying to create that conflict, and I
don't approve of having the conflict.

GROSS: I think most scientists would say that intelligent design isn't a
scientific theory; it's a religious world view, and that a religious world
view does not belong in a science class and doesn't belong in a public school.
Do you think intelligent design is science or religion?

Mr. WALKER: I--as I told you before, I'm not an expert on intelligent design
in any way, shape or form. I do believe that those who are out trying to
promote an agenda that suggests that evolution is in conflict with the Bible,
in fact, are doing a disservice. And whether that comes from the scientific
community or from the religious community, I think it's a disservice to put
the two at odds where I don't personally see any reason for them to be at
odds.

GROSS: My guest is Robert Walker. In the 2000 presidential campaign, he was
the Bush adviser on science and technology issues. We'll talk more after a
break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Robert Walker, former Republican chair of the House
Committee on Science. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he advised
George W. Bush on science and technology policy. We asked him to respond to
Chris Mooney, author of the book "The Republican War on Science."

Let me quote something that you said in September 2004 that's been widely
quoted. I'd like to know what you meant when you said it and set the record
straight. You said that the scientific community could face, quote, "a
push-back at some point in the future," unquote, for its criticism of the Bush
administration. What did you mean when you said that?

Mr. WALKER: Well, what I said--I didn't say--I don't think--I think you added
a paraphrase on there about the Bush administration. What I said was that
scientists, because of their political activity, could, in fact, face a
push-back. And what I meant by that is if, in fact, their science and what
they have to say on science is judged in the same vein as the way in which
they are approaching politics, they are going to lose a lot of the confidence.
When they speak as scientists and speak where their expertise is, they, in
fact, have a lot of credibility, and over the years have had credibility with
me when I was the Science chairman and so on.

When their science agenda appears to become mixed with their political agenda,
then there are people who will raise questions about whether or not they are
giving us all the facts and being entirely credible, and that is a concern to
me. I mean, I am somebody who believes thoroughly in the investment of
science, and I pursued that on Capitol Hill. And when Newt Gingrich was
speaker and I was chairman of the Science Committee, we began the trend toward
moving up the amount of investment this country did in science. And I think
that scientists can undermine their own cause by mixing a great deal of
political judgment into their science presentations.

GROSS: Are you ever concerned that by calling scientists liberal and
politicized and, therefore, biased and not worthy of taking all that seriously
that you are urging people to close their ears and eyes to what scientists are
telling them?

Mr. WALKER: No, I'm worried the other way. I'm worried that scientists have,
in fact, created a situation where you will get a vast portion of the
population that will say, `These guys are simply promoting another political
agenda.' So that when they have something really serious to us, the people
will be somewhat skeptical of what they say. That's my concern, and that's
exactly what I was telling them when I spoke at that point before the AAAS,
the AAAS, which, by the way at the time I spoke, had both its president and
its chairman on the Kerry campaign.

GROSS: And I should mention that the AAAS is the American Association for the
Advancement of Science.

Mr. WALKER: Right.

GROSS: Well, Robert Walker, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. WALKER: OK, sure.

GROSS: Robert Walker was the science and technology adviser to George W. Bush
during the 2000 presidential campaign. He's now chairman of the lobbying
group Wexler-Walker Public Policy Associates. Earlier, we heard from Chris
Mooney, author of the book "The Republican War on Science."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close today's show with a recording by guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth"
Brown. He died Saturday in Texas where he had gone to escape the hurricane.
He lived near New Orleans. He was 81, and had lung cancer and heart disease.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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