Hiding Behind Science

May 25th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Dan Sarewitz, director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University (and a visiting scholar at our Center here at the University of Colorado) authored a provocative op-ed in Newsday yesterday titled Hiding Behind Science. Here is an excerpt:

“We all know that the current White House thinks that protecting embryos is more important than protecting the environment and that the profitability of chemical companies should take precedence over the potability of drinking water. No surprise here. But even if the manipulation of science at the hands of the Bush government is more egregious than in previous administrations, the real problem is the illusion that these controversies can and should be resolved scientifically, and by scientists…

… the problem with these attacks on the Bush administration is that they hide behind the sanctity of science to advance an agenda that is itself political. What we do, or don’t do, about global warming (or stem cell research, regulation of toxic chemicals, protection of endangered species . . .) will be a reflection of how we choose among competing values, and making such choices is not the job of science, but of democratic politics. Science can alert us to problems, and can help us understand how to achieve our goals once we have decided them; but the goals themselves can emerge only from a political process in which science should have no special privilege.

But neither the Bush administration nor its scientific critics want to give up on the pretense that these controversies are about science. To do so would be to abandon the high ground created when one can claim to have ‘the facts’ on one’s side. The resulting charade, where everyone pretends that science can save us from politics, undermines science by turning it into nothing more than ammunition for opposing ideologies. Even more dangerously, it damages democracy by concealing what is really at stake – our values and our interests – behind a veil of technical language and competing expertise.”

Read the whole thing here.

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