Monday, June 21, 2010

Obama's phony reverence for science

Jonah Goldberg is smack on in his article about President Obama's phony preening about the role of science in his decision making. Liberals like to trumpet how they put science over ideology when they're opposing conservatives on issues such as stem cell research or global warming. But Obama has revealed how this is just a political claim that has nothing to do with his real policy choices.
At his inauguration, he pledged, “We will restore science to its rightful place.”

Fast-forward to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House issued a blanket moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Obama cited a report commissioned by the Interior Department that purported to recommend the ban.

“The recommendations contained in this report,” declared the document, “have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.”

Except that was untrue. In fact, it was such a glaring lie that the seven engineers who peer-reviewed an earlier version of the document felt obliged to come forward to clear the air.

“The Secretary should be free to recommend whatever he thinks is correct,” wrote the scientists, “but he should not be free to use our names to justify his political decisions.”

The draft these experts saw was substantively different from the document that bore their names. The draft called for a moratorium on issuing new permits, not stopping existing drilling (a move many experts believe would be unsafe).

One of the experts, Benton Baugh, president of Radoil, told the Wall Street Journal that if the draft had said to halt drilling, “we’d have said ‘that’s craziness.’”

Now, the experts are absolutely right that the White House is under no obligation to listen to them. Temporarily banning deepwater drilling might be the right call (I briefly thought it was myself). But it’s a political call.

Needless to say, there is something ugly and hypocritical about glorifying the absolute authority of scientists and sanctimoniously preening about your bravery in “restoring” that authority — and then ignoring the scientists when politically expedient.

But it is bordering on the grotesque to handpick scientists to give you an opinion and then lie about what they actually said and implement a policy they don’t endorse. (According to the Journal, the Interior Department has apologized to the scientists. But the administration refuses to publicly acknowledge it did anything wrong.)

The most important point isn’t about cheap politics and hypocrisy. It’s about the fundamental misunderstanding of the role of science in policymaking.

Obama once told reporters that “the promise that stem cells hold does not come from any particular ideology; it is the judgment of science, and we deserve a president who will put that judgment first.”
That only goes for when their conclusion supports what he wants to do in the first place. And if science can't serve his ideology, he'll just lie about what the scientists recommend.