The Democratic War on Science
© Jack Cashill
Some mischievous soul at William Jewell College, a smart Baptist institution outside of Kansas City, invited me to participate Tuesday in a three-person panel called “Science, Politics and Policy.”
I say “mischievous” because that person had to suspect the trouble I could cause for the star of the panel, Chris Mooney, an elfin journalist in his late twenties who had scored big in the literary/science complex with his 2005 book, The Republican War on Science.
Before the evening was through I would make the case that if there really is a war on science in America today, it is being waged by the hard left with an able assist from a largely Democratic media.
Part of the war is real. Of the last thousand acts of violence against research science, leftists—animal rights activists, eco-terrorists, anti-nuclear provocateurs-- perpetrated just about all thousand of them.
The war Mooney was protesting, however, was fully metaphorical. And as he would concede, it wasn’t really a Republican war, but a conservative one.
William Jewell had flown Mooney in from Los Angeles for a day of presentations and a ceremonial dinner. The panel was something of a sideshow for Mooney. He showed up studiously disheveled and curiously unprepared, presuming, I suspect, that I was there to play the Washington Generals to his Harlem Globetrotters.
I had other ideas. But it was only after the forum began that I realized how rare it must be for people like Mooney to be challenged on anything. Indeed, his failure to anticipate my likely offense threw me way off my game plan.
At one point, for instance, Mooney casually told the audience that embryonic stem cell research was performed only on embryos discarded during in vitro fertilization.
I almost jumped out of my seat. I had read Mooney’s chapter on the subject and quoted him out of his own book. As he had written, embryos retrieved from fertility clinics had proved inadequate for research purposes.
“Instead,” I read, “scientists would have to obtain them through the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer, sometimes called “therapeutic cloning.”
At this point, Mooney again surprised me by insisting that embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning were two different things altogether.
Where to begin? Had Mooney forgotten what he had researched and written three years earlier? Likely so.
As I explained to Mooney and the audience, there would have been little fuss had scientists stuck to in vitro discards. Instead, they ventured into the process of creating life to destroy it--therapeutic cloning. This is what embryonic stem cell research is all about and why it is so controversial.
The discussion continued downhill from there. When I asked Mooney why he had dismissively compared adult stem cell research to creation science, he denied that he had made any such comparison.
A William Jewell biologist on the panel dared me to find such a quote. I did so in five seconds. “Conservatives have repeatedly hyped adult stem cell research,” I read from Mooney’s book. “The right’s faith based advocacy in this area has even been likened to ‘creation science.’”
Several times in the book, in fact, Mooney had mocked the right’s hope that adult stem cells might substitute for embryonic ones, calling it “dogma” and a “leap of faith,” one that had been “resoundingly rejected by researchers actually working in the field.”
Not so fast. As anyone who has followed this debate knows, November 2007 witnessed the remarkable discovery in two different labs that adult skin cells eventually could replace the use of human embryos in stem-cell research.
When I raised this thesis-busting point with Mooney, he did not deny it. He just blew it off. After all, he was the rock star, the guy who had appeared on the Daily Show and NPR’s Science Friday. Not me.
If possible, the conversation on global warming grew even more detached from the real. In explaining my skepticism, I stuck to the easily graspable, starting with the historic record of the medieval and Roman warmings.
This information seemed to come as news to both Mooney and the biologist. “How do we know that?” the biologist challenged me. Equally skeptical, Mooney reminded the audience that the thermometer had been invented only 150 years ago.
I suggested that the Vikings did not name the island “ Greenland” as part of some real estate scam. I then talked about the settlements there, the vineyards that stretched into Northern England, the town names, the historical artifacts, the memoirs, and the various core samples that suggest these warming events were not local.
“But then it got cold again,” the biologist said as though this information somehow undercut my own. This tag-team madness continued when Mooney challenged my evidence that it had gotten cold at all.
Sticking to the obvious, I referred the pair to the 16 th century winter landscapes of Dutch painter, Peter Breugel, and the 19 th century novel (and Disney special) about Dutch lad Hans Brinker and his silver skates.
“Why am I talking about mother-loving Hans Brinker?” I wondered. This was well beyond any defense I had thought to prepare.
I then reminded the audience, most of whom were too young to remember, about the “New Ice Age” scare of the mid 1970’s brought to you by the same people now bringing you global warming.
Mooney tried to explain the 1940-1975 cooling away by presenting the theory of offsetting aerosol particles as fact. I reminded him, however, that in his own book he had acknowledged that this was just one theory out of many and, I added, a dubious one at that.
Mooney’s conspicuous eye-rolling nearly achieved escape velocity when I ventured that global warming was affecting other planets in the galaxy. “How do you know this?” he asked, demanding chapter and verse on the spot.
I suggested to the audience that when they get the chance, they Google “global warming” and “Mars.” When I did so afterwards, I got 463,000 hits. The first hit was from a 2007 National Geographic Article, “Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says.”
The melting on Mars is one of those inconvenient truths that the literary/science complex all too often dispenses with by distorting to fit the prevailing party line or ignoring altogether.
As a parting shot, I showed an article that I had pulled from the previous Sunday’s New York Times. The headlines said it all, “After Linking New Strain of Staph to Gay Men, University Scrambles to Clarify.”
Refreshingly, the biologist came to my defense. He found the key scientific fact buried fourteen paragraphs deep in the article: “gay men were 13 times more likely to be infected.”
In a science free of politics, he noted, there should be no reason to scramble and nothing to clarify.
My sentiments exactly!
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