Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Science vs. Politics" Is Not Always What It Seems

A couple of pieces from Andrew Revkin in the "Science" section of this weeks New York Times:

Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him.

NASA Chief Backs Agency Openness

(Thanks to Prof. Leonard Long, and his excellent e-mail discussion list for the heads up.)

As a general matter, we obviously don't want the government silencing our scientists. But the issue is not quite that simple, and the lonely libertarian is not sure whether or not Mr. Revkin actually cares. (The lonely libertarian also wonders if a similar column would have been written if a NASA scientist was proclaiming global warming to be a fraud, in opposition to the stance of another administration.)

While we don't want to silence scientists, everyone must recognize the need for an administration to be able to control the spin of information. It does not bode well for enforcement of the law if executive branch agencies can take positions at polar opposites from that of the president.

What these pieces really reveal are the inherent problems of big government. Global warming is an inherently political issue, and having government "scientists" weigh in on either side of the debate seems to be a formula for discontent and trouble. The Times would like to paint this as a typical anti-Bush story: "Bush administration hides the truth of global warming!"

But through both of these pieces I see no discussion of what factual information was actually being suppressed- only specific views and positions on global warming. And unless NASA has some grant of authority to specifically study global warming, it is difficult to imagine why the administration would not have an interest in dictating some sense of direction in an executive agency. Of course, when you frame the issue that way, it all becomes very political. (Either on the level of a global warming debate, or a debate on the nature of the powers and independence of administrative agencies.) Either way, it is not the debate of politics versus science that Mr. Revkin attempts to present.


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