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In the great Republican tradition of white people telling black people what racism is, or congressional committees run by men setting policies on women's health, the Natural Resources Committee held a very important hearing on the politicization of science last week. To keep the testimony untainted by bias, subcommittee chair Rep. Louie Gohmert didn't invite any actual scientists to testify. It was an inspiring reminder that the House Science Committee doesn't have a monopoly on ruining science.


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In his opening remarks, Gohmert did a pretty good impersonation of someone who knew some Science Words:

The purpose of this hearing is to hear from real people, mammals called human beings that have been harmed by the federal government.

Gohmert then invited testimony from three witnesses who catalogued all sorts of victimization by government-sponsored scientists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service (NPS). Again, to keep things fair and balanced, no representatives from those agencies were invited to speak, either. For God's sake, haven't they done enough damage already?

The clown show kicked off with testimony from Kathleen Hartnett White, who formerly chaired the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the Texas agency that sounds like it might be sort of like the Environmental Protection Agency but mostly serves to keep industries from being fined too heavily when they have a little pollution oopsie. White noted that she knows all about science and its negative effects on decent people, through her "previous work on environmental issues in Washington, D.C. for the National Cattlemen’s Association" and through appointed positions in Texas government. More recently, White has helped the climate-change deniers at the Heartland Institute make the "moral case" for fossil fuels, and has explained that civilization itself is far more threatened by Islamic terrorists who want to behead us all than by climate change, which she dismisses as "little more than bad weather." In other words, while she is no scientist, she is an expert on why scientists' conclusions are No Big Deal.

White testified about how "weak government science" had encouraged an environmental group to sue the state of Texas to allegedly preserve a habitat for the whooping crane, an endangered and beautiful but economically unproductive bird that the crazed environmentalists insist need "wetlands" to survive, even when people could put all that water to far better use. White faulted the Fish and Wildlife Service for having miscounted the number of cranes that died due to environmental degradation, which just proves that FWS was skewing its science to put birds over people. FWS biologists were the ones who discovered that the earlier count was inaccurate, and FWS changed its survey methods to correct the error, a change that ultimately led to the environmentalists' losing their case. But White was pretty annoyed that the FWS was producing data that might have stolen water from people and agriculture at all, and that proves government scientists aren't trustworthy.

The other Republican witnesses had similar stories of out-of-control government science ruining people's lives. Clara Beckett, a county commissioner for Bastrop County in Texas, shared a terrifying tale about how FWS biologists completely ruined her county's recovery from a 2011 wildfire because the fire hit an area designated as "critical habitat" for the endangered Houston toad. As a result, according to Beckett's prepared remarks, every part of the recovery effort had to pass muster with the jackbooted federal Toad Nazis:

Essentially every tree that was cut/fell/picked up/hauled and every pile of rubble that was picked up and hauled was inspected by qualified Houston Toad monitor prior to any work proceeding.

Gentle reader, can you imagine the anguish? Beckett movingly describes the personal toll the environmental fascists took on her. While the fire was terrible, having to comply with the insane demands of the Endangered Species Act "felt like the blow to the chest I felt when I was 8 years old and shot my grandfather’s double barrel shot gun only that pain simply left a bruise for a few days. This new set of circumstance has left its mark to this day."

Oh, the humanity! We know just what she went through, because reading her statement's frequent misspellings -- bless her heart, she simply cannot tell "affect" from "effect" -- felt exactly like enduring the Bataan Death March, if the Bataan Death March had been a PDF document on a computer screen.

Some other guy testified about how the National Parks Service totally ruined his oyster business, but we were so traumatized by the frog story that we only skimmed it. The takeaway is that government-paid scientists are bad for business, we're pretty sure.

The sole witness put forward by the committee's Democrats was Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard, who rejected the hearing's very premise that government-sponsored science is bad, because science should never be political. Instead, she explained:

I want to challenge the presumption that politically-driven science is bad science. That presumption -- while widely held -- is demonstrably false.

History shows that a much [sic] -- maybe most -- science is driven by political, economic, or social goals. Some of the best and most famous science in the history of our country was driven by goals that were explicitly political.

For instance, the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Moon missions were explicitly political, and they revolutionized science and technology. Similarly, the international effort to study and alleviate the depletion of the ozone layer over the South Pole was driven by a political and scientific consensus that it would be a lot better to ban some chemicals than for everyone in the southern hemisphere to get skin cancer. Happily, that debate took place before everyone in the Republican party thought to accuse atmospheric scientists of being dastardly socialists conspiring to take away our sacred right to hairspray -- although Oreskes notes that many of the same objections to climate science today were tried in the 1990s, right down to the claims that the science was rigged and that we couldn't possibly address the ozone hole without wrecking the economy. And yet, here we are 20 years later, with a sound economy and a recovering ozone layer. So let's not knock government science, maybe, considering how it literally saved Australia (don't want to hurt no kangaroos).

Dr. Oreskes's testimony is a pretty compelling argument for the value of science guiding government policy to make Earth a better place to live. (OK, maybe we could have done without the Bomb.) We suggest that you go read it, since you're not likely to hear a single word about it on cable news.

[Science Insider via BoingBoing / Texas Observer / House Committee on Natural Resources]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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