Politicizing Science And …

One of Candidate Obama’s most characteristic and common criticisms of President Bush was that he had politicized science, or elevated politics over science in his administration. This played well with an audience that ridiculed Bush as a rube and adored Obama as an Ivy League intellectual.

President-elect Obama played this tune again in his radio address introducing his “science team” on December 20, 2008, a summary and transcript of which is on his change.gov website.

In the latest weekly address, President-elect Barack Obama took a bold stand for making decisions based on science and facts rather than ideology as he introduced leading members of his science and technology team.

“The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry,” President-elect Obama said. “It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.”

The captain of that team is “Dr. John Holdren as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).”

George Will skewers Holdren today:

Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a “basket” of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

An expert Ehrlich consulted in picking the five was John Holdren, who today is President Obama’s science adviser….

As this post by John Hinderaker last December reveals, however, Wills was not hard enough on Holdren (HatTip to Scott Johnson).

While nowhere near as famous as Ehrlich, Holdren collaborated with him on two books and several articles, and fully shared Ehrlich’s pessimistic theories on the future of the human race. In fact, as John Tierney notes, Ehrlich went to Holdren for advice on which commodities to choose for his losing bet with Simon.

Consistent with these preoccupations, Holdren postures himself today as an expert on “sustainability.” In 1995, he co-authored this article, titled “The Meaning of Sustainability: Biogeophysical Aspects,” with Ehrlich. Since Holdren is listed as the principal author, it sheds significant light on his alleged commitment to the “de-politicization of science.”

Holdren begins by identifying the “ills that development must address.” It’s a pretty plain-vanilla list: poverty, war, oppression of human rights. Next, Holdren purports to identify the “driving forces” behind these ills. This is where we start to get political. First on the list is Ehrlich and Holdren’s old hobbyhorse, “excessive population growth,” which is “a condition now prevailing almost everywhere.” Next comes “maldistribution,” as “between rich and investment poor” and “between military and civilian forms of consumption and investment.” (No one here but us scientists, right?)

This is where Holdren can no longer keep his left-wing politics under wraps. He identifies another “driving force” behind humanity’s ills: “Underlying human frailties: Greed, selfishness, intolerance, and shortsightedness. Which collectively have been elevated by conservative political doctrine and practice (above all in the United States in 1980-92) to the status of a credo.”

There you have it! This is the man upon whom Barack Obama is counting to “ensur[e] that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.”

I think I’m beginning to see a trend here. Despite criticizing Bush for politicizing science, Obama in his first three weeks in office has placed a famously ideological scientist in charge of his administration’s science policy and has indicated his intent to put the professionals who design and conduct the census under the immediate political control of Rahm Emanuel and the White House political operation; and despite criticizing Bush for putting a political filter on intelligence gathering has placed a person whose entire career has been as a Democratic politician and functionary in charge of the CIA.

Hope? Change?

Say What?