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Saturday, January 28, 2006

political science

The Bush administration's attempts to stifle environmental science information made the front page of the New York Times today:
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
Didn't they get the memo? Evangelicals are now in favor of reducing humans' degradations of the world's ecosystems. The administrators might be getting their main man in trouble with some of his base. (more in expanded post)

I find this part of it especially ludicrous and indicative of a dangerous prevailing mentality:
Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," he said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

Mr. Acosta said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel whom the public could perceive as speaking for the agency. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.
So scientists are only allowed to report the 'facts' of the problem, not suggest practical potential remedies? To behave as though science were absolutely separate from politics is not only laughable, given, for instance, recent political fights over teaching intelligent design in schools, it also effectively reduces scientists to opinion-less workhorses, whose only job is to report on 'the facts,' never to interpret them. This is the kind of thinking that had contributed to the Pentagon's hold over universities' science departments across the nation, a situation that developed during World War II when the government first began to collaborate with universities which helped with designing weapons technology.

Einstein once observed, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." He was speaking to the same trend of separating science and politics rhetorically and ideologically while at the same time purposely moving them ever closer so that science is militarized and used as a tool to fulfill only certain political ends.

It's especially important that we question this trend here at Harvard, given that the university's capitulation to the Pentagon's threat of revoking funding (the whole ROTC deal) reflects just how dependent our science research departments have become on the government's military. Additionally, we need to try to reverse the efforts to paint scientists as mere fact-finding robots by insisting on ethical/political education for the scientists being trained here (not indoctrinary ethical education; just something like along the lines of History of Science classes).

3 Comments:

At 8:46 PM, Blogger kyledeb said...

Good call on that last part katie, find me a major program at Harvard that is not funded by the department of defense in some way and I will be very impressed. You can debate a lot of issues but the Bush adminstriation and their attitudes towards science is hands down, by almost all accounts, a huge mess.

 
At 1:11 AM, Blogger JSmithua said...

Yeah... my mom, a southern baptist deacon's wife who's against any thing even slightly centrist, much lest progressive, is buying a hybrid because she thinks the US needs to cut down on its fossil fuel use. Bush needs to get wit' it!!!

 
At 7:07 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Speaking of the Pentagon funding Harvard programs, I was talking with a friend of mine recently about the Solomon Amendment/ROTC campus recruiters fight, and he suggested that if the Pentagon insists on making its funding contingent on allowing a discriminatory group to recruit, couldn't Harvard funnel some of those resources it receives into special funds for anti-discrimination groups like the BGLTSA or other organizations? That way those groups could launch some well-supported efforts (full color flyering, teach-ins, what have you) to protest the recruiters' presence. I suggested that the Pentagon funding might be earmarked for certain things, but he speculated that there's probably some pork thrown in there somewhere. Anyone have any insight on this? What do you think of it as an idea?

 

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