Political "Science" and Truth of Consequences

Scientific findings are usually filtered by power, self-interest, and ideology.

[This article is excerpted from Norman Solomon’s new book “Made Love, Got
War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State.”]

Contempt for the empirical that can’t be readily jiggered or spun is evident at the top of the executive branch in Washington. The country is mired in a discourse that echoes the Scopes trial dramatized in “Inherit the Wind.” Mere rationality would mean lining up on the side of “science” against the modern yahoos and political panderers waving the flag of social conservatism. (At the same time that scientific Darwinism is under renewed assault, a de facto alliance between religious fundamentalists and profit-devout corporatists has moved the country further into social Darwinism that aims to disassemble the welfare state.) Entrenched opposition to stem-cell research is part of a grim pattern that includes complacency about severe pollution and global warming -- disastrous trends already dragging one species after another to the brink of extinction and beyond.

Disdain for “science” is cause for political concern. Yet few Americans and no major political forces are “antiscience” across the board. The ongoing prerogative is to pick and choose. Those concerned about the ravages left by scientific civilization -- the combustion engine, chemicals, fossil-fuel plants, and so much more -- frequently look to science for evidence and solutions. Those least concerned about the Earth’s ecology are apt to be the greatest enthusiasts for science in the service of unfettered commerce or the Pentagon, which always seeks the most effectively “advanced” scientific know-how. Even the most avowedly faithful are not inclined to leave the implementation of His plan to unscientific chance.

So, depending on the circumstances, right-wing fundamentalists could support the use of the latest science for top-of-the-line surveillance, for command and control, and for overall warfare -- or could dismiss unwelcome scientific evidence of environmental harm as ideologically driven conclusions that should not be allowed to interfere with divinely inspired policies. Those kinds of maneuvers, George Orwell wrote in "1984," help the believers “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.”

In the first years of the twenty-first century, the liberal script hailed science as an urgent antidote to Bush-like irrationality. That was logical. But it was also ironic and ultimately unpersuasive. Pure allegiance to science exists least of all in the political domain; scientific findings are usually filtered by power, self-interest, and ideology. For instance, the technical and ecological advantages of mass transit have long been clear; yet foremost engineering minds are deployed to the task of building better SUVs. And there has never been any question that nuclear weapons are bad for the Earth and the future of humanity, but no one ever condemns the continuing development of nuclear weapons as a bipartisan assault on science. On the contrary, the nonstop R & D efforts for thermonuclear weapons are all about science.

When scientists found rapid climate change to be both extremely ominous and attributable to the proliferation of certain technologies, the media and political power centers responded to the data by doing as they wished. The GOP’s assault on science was cause for huge alarm when applied to the matter of global warming, but the unchallenged across-the-aisle embrace of science in the weaponry field had never been benign. When it came to designing and manufacturing the latest doomsday devices, only the most rigorous scientists need apply. And no room would be left for “intelligent design” as per the will of God.

The neutrality of science was self-evident and illusionary.