A lot of my “colleagues” (or “SciBlings,” as we clever bloggers refer to each other) have already reviewed this book or portions thereof, so my purpose here is more to relate its imperative than to describe its content.
The first thing you need to know about TWROS is that it has agitated Americans on both sides of the ever-higher political fence as well as the few who still straddle it, albeit for different reasons. I don’t know sales figures for Chris Mooney’s book, but all biases aside, it is an epic regardless. As a rule, a book that raises the collective consciousness of readers across the spectrum without relying on histrionics or the physical deformities of the author, a la Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, is an unqualified success in at least one respect. (In fact, Chris is a hunk and might even be spongeworthy.) But it goes far deeper than that.
In naming the volume, Chris could have borrowed from a phrase from “Greetings from Idiot America,” an excellent piece by Charles P. Pierce in the November 2005 issue of Esquire, and titled the book The Republican War on Expertise or even The War On Expertise: Why Most Dumbasses Become Republicans. Fundamentally, it’s not that Republicans circa 2006 dislike science per se. What they don’t like is how the truth clashes with so much of what they want to do. Scientists tend to add to humankind’s knowledge base rather than subtract from it, and their self-correcting methods tend to improve, not regress. This poses a problem for, say, redneck liars seeking money, power and votes.
The book is divided into chapters that each describe a specific way in which the current administration has systematically wrung all pretense of objectivity from its interaction with scientific experts and its treatment of what these experts have claimed. It’s actually difficult to read the entire book at once, because delving into a new chapter is like being kicked in a different rib. The freedom with which indignant religious delusionals have routinely dispensed with evolution experts since Darwin’s first utterings has spilled almost unchecked into areas concerning biomedical research, obesity and disease, and, most evilly, the planet itself.
I most often rant about the idiocy shat from the ringwormy arseholes of holy rollers, but I pay just as much attention to the damage raining down on various ecosystems. However, the positions taken by politicians such as James “You’ve-got-your-thermometers-and-I’ve-got-my-podium” Inhofe (whose patron saint must be James Watt) are so infuriating that I almost don’t dare address them. The description of the goings-on in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin make me want to stagger westward and start clobbering people with dead salmon.
I make no pretense at being a true environmentalist, but I’m an outdoorsy guy who’s just as eager to preserve his own interests as anyone else. Having seen the National Park Service work force serving the Blue Ridge Parkway (my favorite haven on Earth) shrunk by a crippling amount in recent years, and having also lived in the most epileptically ravaged and exploited part of the United States (the irredeemable Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metroplex), it’s more than a little difficult to watch special interests handed free pass after free pass while the truth is systematically distorted or ignored.
Linn Cove Viaduct at Grandfather Mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway, near Boone, North Carolina
This is Chris Mooney’s main point, which he makes well and with which no sane person should disagree: It’s one thing to make the claim that we humans are as entitled as we define ourselves to be to be to use the planet as a toilet, playground and mother lode in every way we can dream up, however unsustainable these uses may be. It’s another, however, for people leading the charge to lie about it and prevent the truth from reaching the voting populace to the fullest extent possible. The truth needs to be accessible, and the more skillfully it’s concealed by the people running what’s ostensibly a democracy, the more certain it becomes that people who aren’t inherently very bright to begin with will turn to the easy allure of jingoistic slogans and rhetoric when it comes time to select a new batch (or better yet, a new breed) of leaders, and continue to be as ignorant — and proudly so — as the typical incurious American is today.
Thanks largely to the amazingly self-serving jesters on the far right and the 21st-century high priests they invite to the party, incalculably valuable medical research is being stymied in favor of the “souls” of blastocysts, abortion and gays are seen as greater threats to civilization than wars, and purse-lipped, morally challenged freakvangelists can claim without fear of widespread derision that the thousands of deaths a year from now-preventable human papillomavirus infection represent a needed deterrent to premarital sex. But the problem lies not in the details but in the systematic sanctioning and endorsing of deception and abuse. It has never been more plain that voting solely to protect your wallet next month will constitute an act of civic irresponsibility, and two and a half weeks from now, blind GOP supporters should be displaying bumper stickers that say I VOTED LIKE AN ASSHOLE IN NOVEMBER 2006! regardless of how the elections turn out.
You don’t have to avoid wincing, swearing and muttering under your breath when you read The Republican War on Science. But you need to read it.