…Those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values – what one advisor to the Bush Administration dismissed as the reality-based community, who would have thought reality would need defenders? – The Center For Inquiry (CFI).
Can you hear it? The collective sigh of relief of the entire world as George Bush vacates the White House? Well, not everyone is excited about George Bush stepping of his pedestal but it is a sure bet that scientists and those who care about reason in politics are doing handstands.
There maybe many reasons why people will not miss George Bush and his Republican machine. Many point to the fiscal irresponsibilty and the misinformation that supported the war on Iraq. Others will feverishly wave their fingers wildly at the administrations a priori dismissal of responsible sexual health policies and a squandering of individual reproductive rights. Still more will castigate the Bush Administration for allowing the financial mess in America to arise.
Whatever the criticism, the Bush Administration will go down in history as a highly ideological driven government that pandered to extreme evangelical religious right sensibilities. There is nothing wrong with being religious but using faith instead of reason is a flawed approach to politics. All too often when a policy decision was to be made the Bush Administration would rather bury their heads in the sand rather than confront the problem. Science and evidence were relegated second to “faith-based initiatives” which often meant changing scientific documents to suit the policy rather than shaping policy around the evidence. The Republican attacks on science got so bad that it prompted science writer Chris Mooney to write an entire book, The Republican War On Science, which was dedicated to documenting the science abuses of the Bush Administration.
Elected in 2000 to a platform of “unity”, Bush proceeded to divide society with submitting to God politics and thereby marginalising science and those who do not share his Christian convictions. The abuse and subversion of science was not focused on just one area of science either. Stem-cell research, global warming, reproductive policy, evolution teaching in schools, “fixing” NASA research data… any science that “got in the way” was swiftly moved out of the way. What is common among all the policy areas to do with that science was tampered with or flat out ignored when it conflicted with Christian religious values. This unconstitutional advancement of one religious viewpoint in politics has been noted by many, particularly the Center For Inquiry (CFI), which continued unabated in exposing the anti-democratic, anti-science behaviour of the Bush Administration.
The following quote from President Obama is refreshing given the politics of the past 8-years:
Scientific and technological information is of growing importance to a range of issues. I believe such information must be expert and uncoloured by ideology.
I will restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best available, scientifically-valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees.
Statements like those above are exciting to the “reality-based community”. America now has a president who embraces science as a tool for informing policy decisions and has appointed people to positions based on their expertise in that field. People like Steven Chu – Energy Secretary and nobel prize winning physicist. It is doubtful the Bush Administration would have even contemplated hiring someone qualified to such a post given the implications on policy he or she might have had.
President Obama has also elevated the science advisor from the geek in the corner to a position of respect. John Holdren, physicist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, will take the post as presidential science advisor. No longer will important policy decisions be run by the likes of Karl Rove before being parroted to the President. Issues where science can inform policy decisions will come from scientists. Imagine that… government adhering to basic priciples of reason and formulating policy from facts. In this, Obama is unequivocal. He realises the need for science and the history of science in being able to solve our collective problems. One Obama quote succinctly sums up the difference between the failed politics of the Bush era with the resolve of the new:
There can no longer be any doubt that human activities are influencing the global climate and we must react quickly and effectively. First, the U.S. must get off the sidelines and take long-overdue action here at home to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. We must also take a leadership role in designing technologies that allow us to enjoy a growing, prosperous economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Checking with reality has been and always will be the best starting point for important decisions and the previous quote acknowledges this basic principle. In his acceptance speech, Obama noted that America must move on from that which divisive and that a unified approach and common vision is the only way forward. Favouring certain segments of society and the dismissal of the rights of others by government appears to be throught the exit door. It might not be an easy road, but adhering to the findings of science is a good start.