Ask a wingnut

ASK A WINGNUT…. The fine folks at Salon have a fun new feature called “Ask a Wingnut,” in which reasonable people, curious what a real-live conservative thinks about a given issue, get to pose a substantive question to a former Bush administration official. We don’t know who the official is — he/she writes pseudonymously — but the “wingnut” goes by the name of “Glenallen Walken.”

In this week’s edition, readers asked why the Republican Party, and conservatives in general, are hostile to science. Glenallen Walken responded:

To me, the question is almost laughable on its face. Conservatives are pro-science and, as a general rule, pro-cost-benefit analysis and pro-thinking.

As evidence to support the argument that the right loves science, Salon‘s resident wingnut pointed to some specific examples: Reagan supported the creation of a missile-defense system (SDI) a few decades ago; George W. Bush once said something about going to Mars; Gingrich supported expanding NIH funding 15 years ago; and Bush “was the first president to propose federal funding for stem cell research.”

While I’m delighted that “Glenallen Walken” is willing to respond to questions like these, his/her response isn’t exactly persuasive.

Right off the bat, the provided examples are pretty weak. Most notably, Bush may have been the first to make federal funds available for stem-cell research, but that’s a silly argument. For one thing, it’s a new scientific field. I’m sure FDR and Abe Lincoln would have been happy to invest in such research if it were available before the 21st century. For another, Bush’s approach to stem-cell science was utterly ridiculous, and the restrictions he imposed were incoherent. This isn’t evidence of Republicans embracing science; it’s evidence of the opposite.

But just as important is the fact that “Glenallen Walken” takes an incredibly narrow view of the question. Right now, the Republican mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed. Recently, the very idea of credible scientific inquiry — “something called ‘volcano monitoring'” — became the subject of Republican mockery.

Under Bush/Cheney, there was an effective “war on science,” in which scientific research was either rejected or manipulated to suit political ends. The integrity of the scientific process itself came under attack, to the delight of the party and its base.

If “Glenallen Walken” thinks the question is “almost laughable on its face,” it only helps reinforce why this is a problem for the party.