Politicizing Politicization

February 22nd, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A widely run Associated Press article yesterday by Paul Recer reminded me how difficult it is to get good analysis from the media (or anybody else) on the issue of the politicization of science. The article included the following,

“The voice of science is being stifled in the Bush administration, with fewer scientists heard in policy discussions and money for research and advanced training being cut, according to panelists at a national science meeting [AAAS meeting in DC]… Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, said the Bush administration has cut scientists out of some of the policy-making processes, particularly on environmental issues… Under Bush, said Bierbaum, the questioning of the proven science has become more important than finding ways to cope with climate change. One result of such actions, said Neal Lane of Rice University, a former director of the National Science Foundation, is that “we don’t really have a policy right now to deal with what everybody agrees is a serious problem”…”

It seems to me that some important context was overlooked in this article. It should have noted that Rosina Bierbaum and Neil Lane were both political appointees in the Clinton Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, with Lane serving as presidential science advisor and Bierbaum as one of his deputies. Of course, the following headline just doesn’t have the same zing, “Former Clinton Officials Criticize Bush Science Policies.”

Supporters of President Bush would be unlikely to point out this obvious conflict of interests because by doing so they would draw attention to some real concerns associated with the president’s handling of scientific issues (e.g., see here). Opponents of the president are even more unlikely to point out this conflict because the article was obviously written to score political points.

In 2003 I wrote an essay about the politicization of the politicization of science. Here is an excerpt,

“It has become fashionable for combatants engaged in political debate on topics such as global warming, genetically modified organisms, and stem cell research to highlight the negative consequences for both science and policy making of politicizing science. For example, in the United States Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) recently issued a report alleging that the administration of George Bush systematically abuses science in support of its ideological agenda. And the Hoover Institution published a book – Politicizing Science – which disparages the alleged misuse of science in support of environmental regulation. Making sense of these sorts of accusations is difficult because the accusers are typically far from disinterested observers. Mr. Waxman is engaged in political battle with the Bush administration and many of the authors of essays in the Hoover book are long-time opponents of environmental regulations, as is the Hoover Institution in general… It is ironic that expressions of concern about the politicization of science have become another way for ideologues to advance their particular agendas. In other words, we are witnessing the politicizing of the politicization of science… Politicization of science is a problem, irrespective of the ideology of those doing the politicizing. Our scientific enterprise is too important to allow putative concerns about the politicization of science to become just another weapon in partisan battle.”

It is clear that there is an ample supply of people willing to use concern over the politicization of science as a political bludgeon to score points on the Bush Administration. It is also clear that there are plenty of others aligned with the Bush Administration willing to do exactly the opposite. The question I have is, where are the analysts (including reporters) who care about the politicization of science irrespective of possible advantages that are lent to today’s partisan political battles?

6 Responses to “Politicizing Politicization”

  1. EEJD Says:

    Good to see someone else noticed the lack of context provided in the Recer article. I agree, politicization of science is a problem, on both sides of the political spectrum. I blogged yesterday on the Recer article at:


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  3. kevin vranes Says:

    {{ Asked for comment, White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said, “The president makes policy decisions based on what the best policies for the country are, not politics. People who suggest otherwise are ill-informed.” }}

    It’s too bad you can’t even have a reasonable debate on the issue with one of the key players. Statements like this show that the White House isn’t even willing to agree on the terms. That political spokespeople love to call ‘black,’ ‘white’ is obvious, but this is absurd.

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  5. Julie Says:

    I noticed the CNN article and also noticed that the backgrounds of the people being quoted had been left out. The article got me thinking about science policy, which is a new track of thinking for me, and I posted my thoughts over at http://www.eggington.net/~somethingclever/Julie/Blog/2005/02/economics-and-evolution-of-scientific.html .

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  7. The Commons Blog Says:

    Politicizing Science

    Roger Pielke has a characteristically thoughtful post on the politicization of science on the Prometheus science policy blog.It is clear that there is an ample supply of people willing to use concern over the politicization of science as a political…

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  9. Crumb Trail Says:

    Unreasoning Faith

    Last December there was a series of posts1,2,3 inspired by Don Boudreaux’s analysis of the hysterical reaction of Democrats to their losses in the November election. Boudreaux advanced an argument that the root of all their distress was analogous…

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  11. Crumb Trail Says:

    Real Deal

    Another aspect of the issues discussed in Unreasoning Faith is the conclusion reached by some that the ideals marketed by the Enlightenment Project are fading to irrelevance for much of the world. The Enlightenment was a grand party of…