Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of music)

IRA FLATOW, host:

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow. Let's look at some of the issues that we talk about on this program: global warming, stem cell research, evolution versus intelligent design. If you pick just about any scientific issue with policy implications - and these days, it seems that you can almost predict a person's position if you know how they voted in the last election.

Democrat: I'll bet you support mandatory limits on Greenhouse gas emissions; federal funding for stem cell research; the teaching of evolution, but not intelligent design in science classes. Conservative Republican: I'd say voluntary limits on Greenhouse gas emissions; no federal funding for embryonic stem cell research; teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in biology classes; and skepticism about global warming.

I know I'm generalizing a bit, but doesn't it appear to you, that science has become very, very politicized? And my next two guests think so, also. One will make the case that the Republican Party is misusing or ignoring science in pursuit of its political agenda. He says the GOP has, “unleashed a perfect storm of science, politicalization and abuse.”

My other guest says science is being mishandled, but the liberal left is to blame. And he says liberals have hijacked science for long enough, it's time to set the record straight, it says there, right on the cover of his new book. And his name is Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. And he is also senior editor at The American Spectator in Washington. He joins us from our NPR studios in Washington.

Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Mr. Bethell.

Mr. TOM BETHELL (Author, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science”; Senior Editor, The American Spectator): Thank you.

FLATOW: Chris Mooney, the author of The Republican War on Science, published this last year and out in this fall in paperback. He's the Washington correspondent for Seed magazine. He's also in our NPR studios in Washington.

Welcome back to the program.

Mr. CHRIS MOONEY (Author, “The Republican War on Science”; Washington Correspondent, Seed magazine”): Thanks for having me.

FLATOW: What is wrong with the way science is done, these days, Tom?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, I would - I don't quite agree that it's - I mean, Chris thinks that it's Republicans who have politicized science. And I'm not really saying in my book that the Democrats have. It's really a much more bipartisan…

FLATOW: Try liberal. It says right on the cover, liberals have hijacked science…

Mr. BETHELL: Well, you're…

FLATOW: …for long enough.

Mr. BETHELL: …quoting dust jacket copy, which is maybe some truth to it, but my position is really more that the - it is politicized in a bipartisan way. And to illustrate what I mean, buildings on the NIH, National Institutes for Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, are named after congressman or senators who control the funding for the NIH. For example, you have the Mark Hatfield Research Center, the Louis Stokes Lab Building, Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Center, John Porter's Neuroscience Center and so on. So…

FLATOW: Well, they got the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington also.

Mr. BETHELL: Well, yeah, but Ronald Reagan didn't - you know, he was not responsible for the funding. I mean, these are congressman or senators who are actually sending the money to the NIH. And, in fact, when the ceremony for Louis Stokes, where they kind of cut the ribbon, the acting director of the NIH said of Stokes, his word was his bond. We could take it to the bank and we did so often. So…

FLATOW: So wait, I'm trying to understand the point that you're trying to make.

Mr. BETHELL: The money, the people who - generous as it were - in the funding of NIH programs, are in the position where they can get buildings named after them. This is - there was a Senator Cohen, objected at one point, said that this was a new low in Washington's culture of arrogance, when federal agencies can be renamed in honor of senators that control their budgets. The same was not true of Ronald Reagan. Of course, the National Airport is named after Ronald Reagan, but he didn't fund that.

So what I'm saying is, government science has become much more - the problem is government has gotten control of science. It's not that the liberals or the conservatives, the Democrats or the Republicans, have gotten control of it, is what I would say.

FLATOW: So who should be in control of science?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, there is an ideal of science, I mean, what I think of as the constitution of science, which is a decentralized activity where experiments should be repeatable and propositions should be falsifiable, and not based on authority or consensus as they tend to be now. A minority in real science, a minority of one can be right. But now, with government science, there's a tendency to centralize power to intimidate dissenters.

The person who really foresaw this and put it better than anyone was Eisenhower and his famous Military-Industrial Complex speech, in 1961, just before the Kennedy inaugural. He, in the same speech - and very few people know about this - lamented about the increased share of research that was being taken over by the federal government, the decline of the solitary inventor, as he called them. And he feared the domination of scholars by federal employment. And he also commented that it looked as though government contracts were becoming a substitute for curiosity.

These are amazingly prescient remarks made by Eisenhower. And in the same speech of just a few sentences later, is the Military-Industrial Complex. Government agencies have a tendency to want to expand and to enlarge their own mission. And in order to do this, they're inclined to discern crisis and to inflate them, global warming, stem cell - and opportunities. And we've seen this in recent years in such issues as global warming and bird flu, I think, is another one. Stem cell…

FLATOW: So you don't believe in global warming or that the bird flu is?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, bird flu…

FLATOW: …is a potential problem.

Mr. BETHELL: Well, I mean, bird flu may be a potential problem, but we're talking about 120 cases over a nine-year period in the whole world, where there are 55 million people, I believe, die every year. And, you know, it is just - when you take the worst-case scenario and you pump it up with headlines, the media, you know, of course, plays along because - in a sense, naturally, because for them, you know, a story - saying that something frightening is going to happen is much more likely to - is much more headline worthy than if you have, for example, a climate scientists just says that climate is doing - is fine.

A good example to illustrate the point is Richard Lindzen of MIT, who recently wrote an article in which he pointed out that the funding for climate change had increased by a factor of about five since the 1980s. And scientists who dissent from the alarmism are inclined to see their grants disappear, their work derided, and themselves labeled as the stooges of industry.

FLATOW: Mm hmm.

Mr. BETHELL: So, this is the - what is happening. It's as though the government funding of scientists is used as a sort of mechanism of control. It tends to silence dissent. And the science itself is affected, I think. Scientists who work under these kind of regimes tend to settle in as doing nine to five work, Monday to Friday job. Competition, which was the driving force of science, I think, is sort of eliminated when one agency - when one government is funding the whole thing.

FLATOW: Let me get a reaction from Chris Mooney - Chris?

Mr. MOONEY: On which point? There were a lot of them there. Well, first of all, his book is largely an attack on the way the left is misusing science. I read it and I think that that's fair to say. On the issue of government funding, I mean, government funding is good for science in a lot of ways. We would not have gotten to the moon without government funding.

So he's painting a very one-sided picture on that point. Sometimes you need the government to fund research that industry doesn't want to take a big risk on, because, in many cases, it's basic research and they're not sure what they're going to get out of it. So that's why the government steps in. And there's a role for both. And, ultimately, we want a productive relationship between industry, or private funding of research, and government funding. And that's what we should hope for. We shouldn't just slam one side rather than the other.

You know, just going point by point, let's talk about bird flu. Is it a problem? How big a problem is it? I don't know. But, you know, I'd rather hear false alarms than be completely blindsided by a problem that comes out of nowhere. So, you know, it's not always completely bad to be Chicken Little in some sense. And we could go on and on and on, but I'll stop there.

Mr. BETHELL: Yes. I mean, this is how you get the $7 billion request. President Bush on the bird flu said, okay, let's have $7 billion extra for bird flu. And, you know, I mean, if you…

FLATOW: That's only, that's only three weeks of what we spend in Iraq.

Mr. BETHELL: Well, okay. Well, I would not be too enthusiastic about our engagement in Iraq, either. I mean, incidentally, I think…

FLATOW: I'm just putting in a perspective about the, how much money the government has.

Mr. BETHELL: Right. I understand. But on Chris' point there about how some governments - you know, the Manhattan Project, I bet, guess, is the best example of a government project that did work.

And I guess my answer to that, is that I think there has been a change. And it's comparable to - may be comparable to what has happened in education is now happening in science. Education, government schooling, also used to work at the time of the Manhattan Project, until quite recently.

But the teachers and the teachers' unions have learned to sort of game the system. And I think that we're seeing, maybe, a gaming of the whole system by government science now where they, you know, it's the cushy life for science. And the pressure on them to come up with something is not that great.

Mr. MOONEY: Well, you know…

FLATOW: Go ahead, Chris.

Mr. MOONEY: …this is, I mean, I guess we're beating up on government here rather than talking about the politics of science. But, you know, there's all sorts of drugs. Someone listed them all in my blog today in response to something that Tom Bethell has said where, you know, without National Institutes of Health grants, these drugs would not have been able to get to market. One of them, of course, is Taxol, the great cancer drug.

There's all sorts of wonderful things that government funding of science does. The real issue is not really about funding here. The real issue is about government agencies, i.e., in the Bush administration, that are pretty widely distorting, misrepresenting, and undermining scientific information, and preventing their own scientist employees from speaking out on issues, ranging from global warming to reproductive health, to a number of others.

This has become endemic within the Bush administration. That's the real problem, because this is happening within the quarters of power, right now. And I think it's become almost a consensus point, at this point in time, that the Bush administration, pretty much across the board, misuses and undermines science.

FLATOW: Chris, Tom, do you agree that Dr. Hanson was incorrectly stifled by the White House?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, I'm not sure - I mean, I'm not really sure that he was stifled. I mean, it seems like he went…

Mr. MOONEY: He said he was.

Mr. BETHELL: …he went from one television station to another being - saying that he was being stifled.

FLATOW: Do you think it would have been wrong to stifle him?

Mr. BETHELL: Yes, I do. I do. By the way, on the issue of, you know, government in private sector science, I mean, we're coming up to an interesting kind of possible case study, right now, with stem cell research.

Stem cell research, as Chris Mooney goes on about in his book - he's very critical of President Bush who actually funded stem cell research, but with restrictions. He never got - he never got the credit for actually beginning the funding in 2001.

And then the - so then the opportunity was to do this embryonic stem cell research. And…

Mr. MOONEY: The issue is not funding the research. The issue is misleading the American public by promising more than 60 available lines which didn't exist. He misled all of his in his speech to the nation. He misinformed us. And I expect my politicians to tell me the truth. That's the issue.

Mr. BETHELL: I would - well, that doesn't strike me as being a terribly significant issue. I mean, it may well be…

Mr. MOONEY: Why is it not significant?

Mr. BETHELL: …it may well be that some of those stems, one of those - some of those stem cell lines are not going to be functional, and after, after…

Mr. MOONEY: Well, no. We know that there are only 23. We know that he was wrong. And we also know that scientists immediately afterwards said, what 60 lines? Where are these 60 lines?

Mr. BETHELL: Okay. Well, I won't go along with that, but…

Mr. MOONEY: Okay. Well, that, you know, the president, in a major speech, shouldn't say something that's not true.

Mr. BETHELL: Well, but the real objection has been the he's - but federal funding has not been available outside those stem cell lines, whether there was 60 or 23.

Now, meanwhile, they were promising all of these cures with stem cell research, of Parkinson's Disease, and Diabetes, and so on. And venture capital, of course, at that point could jump in. Private sector money could come in and do it.

But they, in fact, found it much harder to do. With the whole business of doing embryonic stem cell research in a way that will lead to this cures, turned out to be extremely difficult.

And they - so, at that point, California voted $3 billion. And so now they've, now they've got some government money there. But the interesting thing is that now, more recently, quite recently, Harvard has opened a stem cell research institute where they're using just private money. They're not using government money at all.

Meanwhile, government funds, governments all over the world - about six different countries all over the world - Britain, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and so on, are all trying to do this using as much money, government money, as they want.

Mr. MOONEY: And the reason for that, of course…

FLATOW: Let me just - let me just interrupt before we get to the rebuttal. Let me remind everybody that I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News, here with Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, and Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science.

We're talking about - the other governments have gone ahead and, contrary to the U.S. government, the federal government, gone ahead and funded stem cell research and taken many of the scientists with them from the United States. Have they not?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, I don't - I think after California passed that initiative, I don't think that's true. Of course, we also had the fiasco of the actual fraud in South Korea. But…

FLATOW: So, are you saying that we don't need the government to do these kinds of things because we can get other governments to do it…

Mr. BETHELL: No.

FLATOW: …and we can have private industry to do it?

Mr. BETHELL: I'm saying that we've got - what I was - the point that I was coming to is that we have not got set up a kind of a competition, as it were, between the governments around the world that are funding it, and various places, including, right now, Harvard, where they've probably got some pretty good people working on this, as to see whether the private sector can do what the government has, government research has been on…

Mr. MOONEY: It's not an opposition. It's not an either/or. We want private -the private sector, to take basic research and turn it into cures and we want the government to fund basic research because sometimes the private sector doesn't want to do that stuff because they don't know where it's going to lead.

The two have to interact productively together. That's our great tradition in this country. You know, we have the government funding science since World War II, and then we have the private sector, the entrepreneurs, taking up some of the basic knowledge and then seeing what develops from that. I don't see what's wrong with that.

FLATOW: Let me move on. You say in your press release, that the AIDS pandemic in Africa was invented. You're saying there is no AIDS pandemic in Africa?

Mr. BETHELL: What I'm - the African AIDS story is complicated. But the point that very few people seem to know about is that the - is that AIDS was redefined. And at a conference that was held in Bangui(ph), Bangui, in 1985, 20 years ago, in which you no longer needed the human immunodeficiency virus to be present for the disease, the condition, to be diagnosed as AIDS.

The person could have 10 percent weight loss, I think it was, persistent diarrhea, various other things that would all - if they were all added up, they gave points. Then you could diagnose that person as suffering from AIDS.

And the result was, at that point, that, you know, millions of people all over Africa became eligible for an AIDS definition. The second problem is that there is no really reliable - they did, they did also do HIV testing in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the problem with the AIDS test is there are lots of other conditions. And the health conditions in Sub-Sahara in Africa that are present all over the place, are enough to trigger a false positive on the test because it is not…

FLATOW: All right…

Mr. BETHELL: …uniquely, it does not uniquely read positive to those in HIV.

FLATOW: …all right, we'll get to it more - I have to take - rudely interrupt and take a break. Talking with Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, Tom Bethell, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science.

Your questions when we get back. Stay with us. We'll be right back after this message.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about science and politics with my guests, Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, last year from Regency Publishing. He's senior editor…

Mr. BETHELL: Regnery.

FLATOW: …excuse me?

Mr. BETHELL: Regnery.

FLATOW: Regnery. Thank you. Senior editor at The American Spectator in Washington. Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, last year, from Basic Books. He's also Washington correspondent for Seed magazine.

Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Tom, you were telling us that - what are there, 40 million cases of AIDS in Africa now?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, they…

FLATOW: They're not AIDS cases? Is that what you're saying?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, these are estimates - there aren't 40 million. I think it's more like 25 million is what they are estimating. But when the WHO did an actual count, where they actually counted actual AIDS cases, there were only about 700,000.

And the population decline that was forecast in the year 2000, when Clinton took the whole issue of AIDS in Sub-Sahara in Africa to the United Nations Security Council - The population decline has never happened.

And, in fact, the population of Sub-Sahara in Africa has increased, increased, in the last 20 years by 299 million people, the last time I looked, which is equal to the total population of the United States.

And there was a Washington Post story…

Mr. MOONEY: You know what, Ira? I've got to…

FLATOW: Well, let Chris, let him finish.

Mr. MOONEY: He's raising vague doubts and ignoring the expertise of the entire world health establishment on this question. And it's just really shocking to me, that someone could say this about this crisis that we have going on in Africa.

But this is the way Bethell approaches scientific topics repeatedly: Global warning, deny the whole thing and ignore all of the relevant experts; evolution, deny the whole thing, ignore all the relevant experts.

And before he was questioning the extent of AIDS in Africa, he was actually questioning whether HIV causes AIDS. And he even wrote an article, at one point citing, quote, “dissident physicists” in order to call into question Einstein's theory of relativity.

So, I think there's a pattern here.

Mr. BETHELL: See, what you're saying here is that the experts, that there is a kind of consensus that should be allowed to develop and nobody should be allowed to say anything against that. That's basically your…

Mr. MOONEY: No, I'm saying that a lot of people have studied this problem, spent a lot of time on it. And when consensus develops in science, it's based on repeated testing of an idea. And when it does develop, that's a very, very strong thing.

FLATOW: Do you think that - do you think, Tom, that an individual scientist, the opinions of one is just as valuable as a consensus of the general scientific community? And should hold as much weight no matter what the information is?

Mr. BETHELL: No, I wouldn't say that, but there has been a lot of controversy about AIDS, especially in Africa, especially when you redefined it so that you don't have to have the HIV test at all.

Mr. MOONEY: That's because they have trouble with the facilities. They can't always perform the test. So they do the best that they can with what they have available. And, of course, they can't always do the clinical examination that you would want.

So, what are we going to do? We're going to make do, and we're going to have to do some estimating, okay? There's a lot of people; there's limited resources. I mean, be reasonable about this.

Mr. BETHELL: Estimates were grossly exaggerated. And…

FLATOW: Okay. Let me - we made that point. Let me move on because there's so many other points to get to. I want to - we don't have as much time. You're also talk - you also talk about in your book intelligent design, and saying, intelligent design has more evidence in its favor than Darwinism.

Mr. BETHELL: Now, I'd - I'm afraid what you're doing here, Ira, you're, to some extent, quoting from the press release that was put out. I do not actually say that in the book.

FLATOW: Let me get the page.

Mr. MOONEY: Are you at war with your publisher here? I mean, you know, he's quoting your cover, he's quoting your press release. You don't support these things?

Mr. BETHELL: Well, I do believe that there is - I do believe that intelligent - it looks as though the intelligent design is involved in, you know, the organisms that exist.

And I think that the evidence for evolution is extremely weak.

Mr. MOONEY: Well, so you flip-flop on this, then, because I'd like to read you a quote from your book, page 202. You say, “If the advocates of design can invoke an invisible designer or guide, who can prevail over all difficulties any time he wants and design any form of life at will, then we are more within the realm of magic than science.” That's from your book.

Mr. BETHELL: Well…

Mr. MOONEY: So, you didn't seem to be supporting intelligent design there.

Mr. BETHELL: Well, I'm, you know, I'm - I guess I feel about the same way as David Berlinski who feels, you know - have you read any of his articles, who's interested in intelligent design? I mean, it looks as though the Darwinian mechanisms are inadequate and insufficient to create the organisms that we see. Now, you…

Mr. MOONEY: According to who? Besides you. I mean the entire scientific consensus on this, the National Academy of Sciences, everyone…

Mr. BETHEL: Oh, the consensus.

Mr. MOONEY: Right, right. The consensus on evolution, which goes back many - you know, Tom Bethel wrote an article in '76 where he actually said that evolution was on the verge of collapse, and of course that didn't happen. It's only gotten stronger since then, and the best evidence that we have - the strength of evolution is convergent evidence from a wide variety of different fields.

FLATOW: Tom, what about that judge in Pennsylvania? He sort of really…

Mr. BETHELL: Oh, sure.

FLATOW: …did a very scholarly treatise on that, did he not? And he has no dog in this race, you know?

Mr. BETHELL: No. And I - for one, I would say that intelligent design, I'm completely opposed to the idea of trying to bring it into the classrooms or trying to make it compulsory in any way. It a battle that has to be fought, you know, in the free market.

Now, Mooney makes a point in his book that I thought was interesting, where he says that, you know, he quotes the Triple-A.S., the American Association for the Advancement of Science, saying that intelligent design is pseudo-science, and the reason he gives is because they subscribe to a philosophy of science called methodological naturalism, which is a mouthful for saying that only physical causes are going to be allowed in science, only material causes can be allowed. It is a form of materialism.

Mr. MOONEY: Right. When we hear thunder, we no longer think the Gods are angry. That's basically what we're talking about here.

Mr. BETHELL: Right. So…

Mr. MOONEY: We use explanations that are natural in nature.

Mr. BETHELL: You pose as the alternative to this the supernatural or the miraculous. Now, there is something else. You can thread that needle with something else, and to illustrate the point, I'll - there is a concept of agency.

I'm going to lift my arm, but listeners can't see it right now, I've got my stuck out and I'm going to lift it. My arm goes up. What caused it to go up? Muscles? You could say, well, muscles caused it to go up. But what, it was my mind that made the decision. So mind introduces the concept of agency, and where does, you know, there is this constant intervention in the natural world in ways that do not have to be regarded as being miraculous.

Mr. MOONEY: Okay, so…

FLATOW: Do you think…

Mr. MOONEY: …you're equating your mind and the mind of God. And the difference is that I can see you in the room here.

Mr. BETHELL: But what happens if you - you can't see what the actual mechanism of what's operating, you know, in my brain, or you know, they've looked and looked, and the fact of the matter is, it looks as though mind is in some way not a materialistic thing. And there is - this intervention takes place constantly.

FLATOW: Let me just move on to another topic. Let's talk a little bit about global warming. There's that Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, showcasing the Vice President's effort to avert a major catastrophe. There was also a federal study out last month that concluded that the earth's lower atmosphere is warming and humans are influencing global climate. Do you think that the two sides are finally coming together, Tom? Or do you still think that the jury, as the President says, the verdict is still out on this?

Mr. BETHELL: I think the verdict is - we're not going to reach a verdict yet. I mean, I think that the problem is that the time is too short. I agree that in recent decades the globe has been warming, but to say that it is caused by humans I do not accept that.

FLATOW: What does, what would it take for you to agree to that?

Mr. BETHELL: I think it would have to go on for much longer. Its only been going on for less than 30 years. And there was a period of about 30 years before that, in the mid-20th century when there was global cooling, when there was still plenty of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. I read recently that the Mars global surveyor showed the ice caps are shrinking over the last nine years in Mars. I don't know whether - what the cause of that might be. Two Russian physicists bet $10,000 - somebody $10,000 that there will be cooling, perhaps within about ten years. And solar radiation has - may well be the cause. We don't know.

But the thing is it would be extremely costly and expensive for the U.S. to do this.

Mr. MOONEY: Can I address this global cooling claim?

Mr. BETHELL: We would bear all of the costs, and, you know, very little benefit would be achieved.

FLATOW: Chris?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, yeah, I mean, this global cooling thing, you know, I just, you hear it all the time. There's this blogger who's proposed this game called Global Warming Skeptic Bingo, where if they make an argument that's been discredited over and over again you put one bingo thing there and another one there. Global cooling is one of them.

We know why. It wasn't - first of all it wasn't global, it was mostly in the northern hemisphere, and scientists know very well why it happened. It was actually human caused. It was air pollution, sulfate aerosols, which basically counter the effect of carbon dioxide. And now, of course, we have the Clean Air Act amendments which took the sulfates out of the air, and so then the carbon dioxide came back. That's the accepted scientific position.

I don't know hwy, I've told Tom Bethell this on the air before, that - the sulfate aerosol explanation. But he keeps citing this cooling period in order to undermine the roll of carbon dioxide. I just don't get it.

Mr. BETHELL: What about the earlier periods, of the Medieval warm period, when - I mean the attempt to claim that the present warming is unprecedented, it seems to me they had to do a lot of jiggery pokery(ph) with statistics to get rid of what was obviously an earlier warmer period.

FLATOW: Did you see Al Gore's film?

Mr. BETHELL: I have not seen the movie, no. I'm told that it's very well made. But I haven't seen it.

Now, maybe Al Gore will get to be President in two years, and then at that point he can submit the treaty, the Kyoto Treaty for ratification. And I'm just sorry, in view of the fact that he thinks it's so serious, that he didn't do this before when he and Clinton were - had a chance between 1997 and 2000.

FLATOW: Well, if you watch the movie you'll see he has tried to do this before in Congress, when he was a senator and congressperson. 1-800-989-8255; let's see if we can get a phone call or two in here.

Paula, in Portland. Portland, Oregon. Hi, Paula.

PAULA (Caller): Hi. Yes.

FLATOW: Quickly.

PAULA: You guys are ping-ponging over so many subjects, its hard to follow.

FLATOW: Makes your head spin, doesn't it?

PAULA: Oh, yeah. You guys are talking pretty fast. But I want to make - sort of focus on a particular thing. I just have a couple points to make about - which haven't been addressed. And I don't think consensus confers rightness, necessarily, just on that point. But what I'd like to know is, what do the two guests think of the role of pharmaceutical companies in determining the scientific agenda. Because I'm hearing all about cure, you're talking cure, cure, cure, and I'm not hearing anything about looking into why are we getting these diseases, i.e., you know, environmental degradation. And there's no money to be had in that, of course.

And I'd just like to know what your guests think about, for example, the mercury issue and vaccines, and all the kinds of things that are going into making chronic illness sort of the norm here. And why is the policy being driven towards cure and not towards prevention?

FLATOW: All in the next five minutes, you want to hear that. We'll pick one out, Paula, and we'll see what we can do. Thanks for calling.

PAULA: Thanks.

FLATOW: Chris, you want to pick one of those, or Tom, one of those you'd like to address?

Mr. MOONEY: Well, I'll just say, briefly, consensus doesn't automatically confer rightness, but when consensus has developed over a long period of time, through institutionalized skepticism of the scientific process, and many people have arrived at the same conclusions, that's a very powerful thing. That's all I'm really trying to say.

You know, I'm afraid I don't know a lot about the mercury and vaccines issue, so I'm going to pass on that.

Mr. BETHELL: I don't really either. Although it does bring up, it brings us to another issue that I - another outrageous issue which I have in my book, which is the idea of hormesus(ph). The idea that, in fact, in low doses a lot of chemicals, almost all chemicals that have ever been tested, turn out to be actually, if the dose is low enough, they are actually beneficial. And this is one of these, the mercury scare I think is maybe another thing that's been overplayed.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is the number. We're talking with Chris Mooney and Tom Bethell this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. Tom is author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science: Chris The Republican War on Science.

What about the future? Do you think that, Chris, that this mood in Washington is here to stay for a while?

Mr. MOONEY: I don't see it changing in the near future. I think what we have is institutionalization of science abuse, essentially. And I think it is, it's not that Democrats are 100 percent innocent, or the political left is 100 percent innocent. There certainly have been some problems, and I talk about some of those in my book. We can get into those.

But I think with the political right today, what you have are two key interest groups: industry on the one hand and religious conservatives on the other. And there's a lot of scientific information between them they want to attack, things like global warming for the industry side, evolution for the religious conservative side. And they've built up think tanks that go around putting out all of these sorts of arguments and then Republican politicians pick them up in turn and make them and in some cases they influence policy. That's the structure of the way the misuse of science is working right now. And because this has been built up so well, I don't see it going away any time soon.

Mr. BETHELL: I would just say on the - there's a - Chris has a chapter called Sexed Up Science, and it deals with these, with the religious right and the supposed influence of the religious right. And in a way I kind of, in a backhanded way kind of agree to some extent with what he says. He talks about arguments that are made in the guise of science against condom efficiency, in favor of abstinence education, against the Plan B morning after pill, the health consequences of abortion, and so on.

And I was thinking about this. There's a $170 million program of abstinence education, and if you think about that, who has really failed here? I mean, the fact that religious, the fact that figures on the religious right arm using arguments, scientific arguments which may indeed not always be very good against these things tells me that the real, that the religious right has not been strong at all. They have been totally unable to stem the sexual revolution in which all of - as a result of which all these things are happening.

I mean it's the failure of the religious leaders, the failure of the bishops to address any of these issues, so some of these figures on the religious right are now trying to come in with scientific arguments. So contrary to what you say, it does not show the strength of the religious right at all.

Mr. MOONEY: Well, the religious right is a reaction, in many ways, to the sexual revolution. Of course they've failed to stem it, that's why they're now so active. And so now they have a lot of power with this administration, so now it's very troubling.

Mr. BETHELL: So you say - why of course were they are unable to stem it? Why would that be a matter of course?

Mr. MOONEY: I think that a lot of the mobilization of Christian conservatives, if you look historically in their integration into the Republican Party and their activization as a political force, happens, you know, in reaction to the ‘60s. That's what I'm trying to say.

Mr. BETHELL: Yeah. You say at one point the deeper issue is the administration has been able to rely on the expertise of Christian conservative scientists. It's as though you really wish they weren't there at all, really. They've been able to rely on them? I mean, should it - would it be better if they just didn't exist?

Mr. MOONEY: No. We need a good process in order to assess information on all these topics, whether it's reproductive health or something else. And what we should never be doing is picking this one outlier guy who's making an argument that's well outside the mainstream and saying, oh, we're going to go with him. That's a political decision, rather than having a good scientific assessment process and figuring out what the end result is there. And that's what they're doing.

FLATOW: That's the last word we're going to have. I'm sorry, we've run out of time. I want to thank Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, senior editor at the American Spectator in Washington. Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and Washington correspondent for Seed Magazine.

Thank you both for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. MOONEY: Thanks.

Mr. BETHEL: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.