Monday, July 16, 2007

The Surgeon General and the Definition of 'Science'

The Senate is looking to approve President Bush's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. James W. Holsinger.

Holsinger has opponents, in part because he wrote a paper in 1991 where he wrote that homosexuality is unnatural and is to be blamed for a number of diseases and side effects.

He has told the Senate that if pressured to put ideology over sound science, that he would resign. (Holsinger: Politics Won't Trump Science.

However, we need to look at this in the proper context.

This is an administration that promotes the idea that creationism is science. Indeed, it seems to operate on the idea that we can distinguish good science from junk science by how well it supports religious beliefs. The Bible is, in essence, the answer book, and any scientist that gets an answer that is not consistent with the answer book needs to redo his science.

On this view, science cannot trump conservative ideology because good science necessarily agrees with that ideology.

We see the same attitude towards intelligence gathered before the invasion of Iraq. Intelligence that supported the Administration's policy was good intelligence. Intelligence that contradicted that policy was sloppy or politically motivated, and needed to be done over. The policy was the standard by which intelligence gathering was determined to have been done well or poorly.

Global warming is the same thing. It is easy to imagine the Administration as filled with people who realize that global warming is a problem but who are trying to hide the truth by doctoring the scientific findings. Yet, an explanation that better fits the facts is that the Administration is filled with people who simply believe that there is no way that humans could do harm to the environment, and who judge the quality of the science according to whether it agrees or disagrees with this conclusion.

Abstinence only education, stem-cell research, the effects of abortion on the health of the mother - these are all areas where the people who make up and support the Administration all judge the science as good or bad according to how well it supports their ideology.

Holsinger's answer is just the type of answer that politicians love to give - an answer that says absolutely nothing, because it equivocates on the meanings of terms.

His claim that he is willing to put science above idology means absolutely nothing in this context.

Somebody needs to ask Holsinger a follow-up question.

"Sir, what is 'science'?"


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