Leading science denier now writes “the nation depends on nourishing [scientists] and the institutions that sustain them.”
One of leading right wing attackers of climate science and clean energy is now shedding crocodile tears over the decline of US science and engineering. George Will — a ‘thought-leader’ for a movement that indiscriminately opposes essentially all increases in federal spending and that wants to put climate scientist on trial — has a Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post titled, “Rev the scientific engine.”
Will attacks science for a living (see “the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones” and links below). But now he urges his fellow deniers, who now control of the US House of Representatives, to read up on the key role science plays in sustaining the economic vitality of the nation — and the crucial role government plays in advancing science:
One is William Rosen’s book “The Most Powerful Idea in the World,” a study of the culture of invention. Another is the National Academy of Sciences report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited,” an addendum to a 2005 report on declining support for science and engineering research.
Such research is what canals and roads once were — a prerequisite for long-term economic vitality.
Uhh, yeah. Rosen’s book about the development of the steam engine explains that “the innovative culture that blossomed in the 18th-century Britain” depended critically not just on individual innovators, but also on government support, including “a sort of seventeenth-century equivalent of the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.” The NAS report explicitly endorses the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which supports next-generation clean energy technology development, much as the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that I once ran does.
But the right-wing, led by its anti-science and anti-technology pundits like Will, have long worked to hobble clean energy R&D. Reagan cut the renewable energy R&D budget 85% after he took office (see “Who got us in this energy mess? Start with Ronald Reagan“). Thanks to conservative opposition to clean energy from Reagan to the Gingrich Congress to Cheney/Bush, the U.S. share of the PV market has plummeted. By 2008, America had under 6% (!) of the world market (see AllBusiness’s “United States is a bit player in global solar industry“). Finally, right wingers blocked the comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs legislation that was our best chance of generating the kind of funding needed to compete with China’s staggering investment in energy R&D.
It is beyond disingenuous for Will to trumpet the benefits of science and engineering research, when he has done as much as anyone else to undermine the national consensus that once existed for such research.
The first Republican president revered Henry Clay, whose “American System” stressed spending on such “internal improvements.” Today, the prerequisites for economic dynamism are ideas.
Deborah Wince-Smith of the Council on Competitiveness says: “Talent will be the oil of the 21st century.” And the talent that matters most is the cream of the elite. The late Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod said, “Ninety-nine percent of the discoveries are made by 1 percent of the scientists.
“With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them.
Seriously. For the record, the Council on Competitiveness supports the kind of aggressive federal effort on technology development and deployment conservatives have long opposed — including raising the price of fossil fuels to “include the costs that are not currently reflected in their prices such as the impact of oil imports were not security and trade deficit and the impact of carbon emissions on the climate.” Someone like Will has no business quoting the CoC.
And it may be the most laughable statement ever published in the Washington Post for Will to say we need to “defend” scientists, when he has probably done more than anybody writing for the Post to attack them. We know the Washington Post doesn’t fact-check their opinion pieces (see The day DC journalism died: Washington Post is staffed with people who found ZERO mistakes in George Will’s error-filled denial column and Will the Washington Post ever fact check a George Will column?).
But does anybody working for the paper actually read his columns at all? If they did, they might have pointed out to him that just four months ago, he published one of his typical extended anti-scientist screeds — see “George Will embraces Walter Russell Mead’s risible anti-science revisionism” — which included this smear on scientific experts:
Over time, Mead says, “experts lost their mystique”"¦.
“An increasingly skeptical public started to notice that ‘experts’ weren’t angels descending immaculately from heaven bearing infallible revelations from God. They were fallible human beings with mortgages to pay and funds to raise. They disagreed with one another and they colluded with their friends and supporters like everyone else.”
And expertise was annoyingly changeable. Experts said margarine was the healthy alternative to butter “” until they said its trans fats made it harmful.
Yes, because health science research grew more sophisticated over time, we should abandon climate science. Because scientists have mortgages, we should abandon decades of research into the impact of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.
Will’s hypocrisy is beyond belief. It is Will’s fellow conservatives, with his help and encouragement, who have famously been engaging in a War on Science, as my friend and fellow blogger Chris Mooney put it.
The result, as DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, David Sandalow recently put it:
I think skepticism about science puts the United States at competitive disadvantages. Other countries are marching forward in the 21st century, to deploy new technologies. That creates wealth.
And let’s not forget which political movement opposes teaching evolution in school. The National Center for Science Education notes about creationism that “students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level.”
And yet Will bemoans:
U.S. undergraduate institutions award 16 percent of their degrees in the natural sciences or engineering; South Korea and China award 38 percent and 47 percent, respectively. America ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering.
America has been consuming its seed corn: From 1970 to 1995, federal support for research in the physical sciences, as a fraction of gross domestic product, declined 54 percent; in engineering, 51 percent. On a per-student basis, state support of public universities has declined for more than two decades and was at the lowest level in a quarter-century before the current economic unpleasantness. Annual federal spending on mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering now equals only the increase in health-care costs every nine weeks.
A conservative whining that state support for public universities has declined? I apologize for not putting the head-vise warning on this head-exploding post.
Republicans are rightly determined to be economizers. They must, however, make distinctions. Congressional conservatives can demonstrate that skill by defending research spending that sustains collaboration among complex institutions – corporations’ research entities and research universities. Research, including in the biological sciences, that yields epoch-making advances requires time horizons that often are impossible for businesses, with their inescapable attention to quarterly results.
An iconic conservative understood this. Margaret Thatcher, who studied chemistry as an Oxford undergraduate, said:
“Although basic science can have colossal economic rewards, they are totally unpredictable. And therefore the rewards cannot be judged by immediate results. Nevertheless, the value of [Michael] Faraday’s work today must be higher than the capitalization of all shares on the stock exchange.”
That, of course, is precisely why the Chinese are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on clean energy research and development.
Again, Will makes the progressive case for aggressive spending on R&D. Too bad none of his fellow conservatives understand any of this. Will ends:
Richard Levin, economist and Yale’s president, asks: Would Japan’s growth have lagged since 1990 “if Microsoft, Netscape, Apple and Google had been Japanese companies”? Japan’s failure has been a failure to innovate. As “Gathering Storm” says: Making the government lean by cutting the most defensible – because most productive – federal spending is akin to making an overweight aircraft flight-worthy by removing an engine.
For the record, DARPA grants led to the first computer time-sharing system, the first local area computer network, the idea of the personal computer, as well as the menu-and icon-driven software used in the first Apple Macintosh. As the Harvard Business School case study on DARPA explains:
[DARPA] supplied grants and, later, the venture capital, to fund development of artificial intelligence and parallel processing computers. In fact, in the late 1960s, it designated four research institutions — Stanford, Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon, and MIT — as academic centers for the study of computers and computing; using agency seed money, DARPA virtually single-handedly created the United States’ position of world leadership in computer sciences. (The four DARPA-funded centers would train, directly or indirectly, nearly every computer sciences expert in the nation.)
That is precisely the kind of aggressive, across-the-board effort we need to match the Chinese and restore US leadership in clean energy — leadership that conservatives like Will have done so much to kill.
It takes a staggering amount of hypocrisy for Will to publish this piece.
- The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages
- Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it’s still a lie
- Washington Post reporters take unprecedented step of contradicting columnist George Will in a news article