Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Scientific evidence fashionable again

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From The Economist:

ONE of the stranger beliefs of some politicians is that if they treat nature like a troublesome opponent and ignore it, it might go away and stop bothering them. In the opinion of many scientists George Bush, America’s retiring president, was just such a politician. It would be one thing, for example, to argue that it is too expensive to stop climate change and that adapting to such change is a better course of action. It is quite another, as White House officials have done in the past, to describe climate change as a liberal cause without merit.

Mr Bush’s administration also stands accused of suppressing the publication of research he did not like. In 2007, for example, Richard Carmona, then surgeon general, testified to Congress that Mr Bush’s officials had delayed and tried to “water down” a report which concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm. It has been criticised, too, for preferring AIDS-prevention techniques based on abstinence (which don’t work, but have a moral appeal to Mr Bush and his supporters) to those that use condoms (which do work). His attitude to research on embryonic stem cells did not endear him to many scientists, either, and although the disagreement in this case was about a matter of principle rather than one of scientific truth, the decision to stop funding such research was seen as yet another example of how low the stock of science had fallen in the government.

Well, it is rising now. On December 15th Barack Obama, the incoming president, announced that he was nominating Steven Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, to be his energy secretary. At the moment, Dr Chu is head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he has built up a big solar-energy-research project. He is also a strong advocate of research into nuclear power and foresees a world in which fossil fuels are largely replaced by other sources of energy.

On December 20th the president-elect followed Dr Chu’s appointment by nominating Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the government agency responsible for studying the climate, and also for keeping an eye on marine life. Dr Lubchenco has been critical of the Bush administration’s lack of respect for climate science, and for its inaction on greenhouse-gas emissions. She is also concerned about marine pollution and the appearance in the ocean of oxygen-depleted dead zones caused by such pollution.

On the same day John Holdren, a physicist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, who is an expert in the fields of energy, the environment and nuclear proliferation, was appointed as the new presidential science adviser, and he will enjoy higher authority in that position than his Republican predecessor did. In 2007, when Dr Holdren was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), he argued publicly for swift action on climate change.

Geneticists, too, get a look in…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2009 at 11:37 am

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