Science, Public Affairs, and the Bush Administration
I’ve recently learned that my blog has a much higher readership than I originally thought. I really thought this thing was read by a couple of my friends and that was that. But no, it turns out my posts are showing up in google searches, friends of friends (who I’ve never met) and maybe even future employers. YIKES. This news gives me pause to consider what I want out of this blog and how I hope others view it (and, as a result, me). I’ve decided to keep all the current kinds of content, but dial up the discussions of public matters. This approach has two positive attributes: one, it gives me a chance to develop thoughts on complicated matters using my education and viewpoint (which is, arguably, unique… what with the law and the politics and the computers); two, it greatly increases my chances of saying something stupid that will come to haunt me years from now. Two birds… one stone.
To that end, I present for consideration the following Washington Post editorial. The Post requires free registration, and I know many people avoid such things like the plague, so let me quickly describe the contents. The Bush Administration has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar… the cookie jar of science. The editorial documents several instances, but the most egregious offense comes from NASA. Seems President Bush appointed (yes, it’s an appointed position) a 24 year old fellow named George Deutsch to the position of NASA Public Affairs Officer. Also seems Mr. Deutsch claimed he had been awarded an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M… but apparently not. During his brief time at A&M he wrote several very conservative articles for the school’s paper. But worse than that, Mr. Deutsch has been preventing senior NASA scientist from presenting their views (views supported by their NASA funded research) and demanding that all mentions of the Big Bang also mention the word “theory” because he didn’t want to forclose rival intelligent design “theories”.
Now you know the facts… here’s the analysis. First, a twenty four year old political appointee? That’s actually brilliant, in my opinion. Sure, it’s an awful idea for the agency. An appointee with so little actual experience is surely not competent for such a complex job. But, if a President is willing to sacrifice the agency’s wellbeing he has just planted the seeds for an incredibly powerful political operative. Think what this kid could have accomplished by the time he turned 50… assuming he wasn’t forced to resign in disgrace. It’s a real indication of the Republican investment in the future of the party. Not only did they find this kid fresh out of college (sort of), they gave him a big job. If the Democrats had done this years ago when they ran the country, we might not be facing this massive lack of young talent (my observation… may be untrue… certainly not untrue here at the UW).
Second, in regards to the censorship aspect, I don’t view this as a clear cut issue. At first glance it sounds horrible, and it is, but long term consequences loom large. Consider for a moment the world where government scientists are allow to say whatever they want to the public. I suggest to you that if those comments were contrary to the opinion of the current administration the research budget would be slashed. Don’t like the research of your own government… shut-it-down. With the current system where public affairs official spin things properly the science is at least being done. It’s all public record and will eventually work it’s way out into the larger research community where non-government scientists can comment until they are blue in the face.
I’m a big believer that the Truth (yes, capital T) will set us free. Government should not be in the business of manufacturing truth for political reasons. It’s bad and it leads to societies based on a faulty review of reality. Which means that an Administration who openly holds opinions that are counter to scientific understanding should be thrown out of office. But, when the American people vote in such an Administration, fully aware of their tragic view of science, then we are faced with the real possibility that science will be skewed. But I think that is a preferred outcome then having the science shutdown altogether.