George Will Slams Romney as “Data” Driven, Even Though Mitt Isn’t and Will Wishes America Were!

Conservative columnist George Will has offered a bizarre and hypocritical new attack on the GOP front runner.  In a Sunday WashPost op-ed, “Mitt Romney, the pretzel candidate,” Will writes:

Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable, he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate: Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the tea party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming.

Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from ‘data …. Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for THIS?

Has conservatism come so far that it denounces someone because they supposedly follow data?

In fact, Romney isn’t driven by data or the facts — see Mitt Romney IS a Member of a Cult: Likely GOP Nominee Asserts, “We Don’t Know What’s Causing Climate Change.” He is a finger-in-the-wind politician.

But what’s even more pathetic is that anti-data Will wrote an op-ed in January bemoaning the fact that “the nation depends on nourishing [scientists] and the institutions that sustain them.”

I wrote about Will’s hypocrisy back then and will excerpt that post below.


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.

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.

Reublicans 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 took a staggering amount of hypocrisy for Will to publish the January piece.

And it takes a staggering amount of hypocrisy for Will to attack Romney for supposedly being driven by data, as, of course, scientists are.

So is Will pro-data and pro-science or anti-data and anti-science?  Or both?  If Romney is the pretzel candidate, then Will is the pretzel columnist.

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4 Responses to George Will Slams Romney as “Data” Driven, Even Though Mitt Isn’t and Will Wishes America Were!

  1. M Tucker says:

    Shape-shifters all! You will not be able to pin either Will or Romney down on any science issue; they are expert chameleons. Will does not want Romney to be the candidate so he will use any issue to attack him but the alleged “thought-leader” has no real credible thoughts about global climate disruption and neither does Romney. What would be more interesting to find out from Will is if it isn’t Romney, and if Perry and Cain are not electable by a national electorate, who does Will support?

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Reminders, and Also a Thought From Lawrence O’Donnell

    First the reminders: I recently posted two ideas, one having to do with a joint letter that I think four specific individuals ought to send to Romney, and the first step that CP could take to help bring that about; and the other having to do with putting pressure on the relevant media organizations to include key climate change questions in some of the upcoming Repub debates, and the first step that CP could take to help bring that about.

    And now this: Last night I watched a great special on TV, about Ralph Nader. In it, Lawrence O’Donnell was interviewed. O’Donnell said quite clearly and emphatically that if you want to influence a political party on a given issue, you must show that you’re capable of NOT voting for them if they don’t address the issue. Although I didn’t have pen in hand to capture the exact quote, I do remember that he said ‘you must’ twice, like this: “you must, you must” show that you’re capable of not voting for them.

    He went on to explain that he’d been in the government/party, as a Democrat of course, and that the fact is that the Dem politicians can ignore the demands of the left, so to speak, because “where else do they have to go?”. Not an exact quote, but that’s what he said, and clearly so.

    So, as I’ve said before, I do not think that we’re following the best strategy in terms of bringing about a ‘NO’ on Obama’s part to the Keystone XL pipeline. Merely saying “Please Mr. President (but we’ll vote for you either way)” won’t cut it, most likely. And I think we should open that question and topic up for vigorous sharing of pros and cons, and vigorous debate.

    In any case, that’s my two cents worth for today.

    Be Well, and Happy Halloween,


  3. Two words: primary challenge.

    If you’re a liberal Democrat, you’ll have some of my modest little bag of dough at you’re disposal if you can get out there and challenge Obama. Obama is a Republican Trojan Horse, IMO. Not a Democrat. He’s there to get Republican “unmentionable” policies through Congress. The “unmentionables” are those policies — like Nixon and China — that the rank and file can’t embrace for idealogical purity reasons. That’s why the GOP is running boneheads against him. (Look for Jeb in 2016.)

  4. Russell says:

    If 16% of George’s staff were science and technology graduates , he might be more coherent, but conservative intern programs , like ISI, tend these days to draw on colleges and universities that subordinate science to metaphysics

    Backed by the Bradley Foundation as much as the Koch’s , the two Georges, Gilder & Will are overseeing the transformation of conservatism from a political philosophy into a belief system.