Monday, February 16, 2004

Amendment to 2/12/2004 post:

Science Policy Questions
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After writing about the problematical science policy of the federal government, acting under the direction of the Bush administration, I came across a relevant comment from Moira Breen on her blog, inappropriate response.  (More details at Lex Communis; the perspective of anthropologists is in this PDF; a wonderful compilation of information by Kris Hirst is here)

Legislation to clarify NAGPRA in the interests of science, and, more specifically, to preserve the Kennewick site from burial by the Corps, was introduced by Republicans and opposed by the Clinton administration. In the case of site-preservation, Congressional intent was ignored and the site buried. The present administration is culpable in that Interior and Justice have carried over the policies of the previous administration. (The poor quality of their efforts in defending Babbitt's decision  suggests a certain indifference. Let's see if and how they plan to appeal.) Here are a few pertinent links: 1, 2, 3, 4.  (Sorry - free registration required.)

Folks, there's plenty of nonsense on both right and left to poke sticks at, plenty for everybody, so there's no need to pretend that those who take up the case against the scientists, on this and related issues, don't come predominately from the left. They do. (This fact, note, says nothing about the affiliation of the defenders of the scientists.) I'd say the decision could properly be described as a victory for liberalism (not Liberalism USA c. 2003) over obscurantism. To try to spin it, however off-handedly, as a victory for Democratic enlightenment over an implied conservative obstructionism is just preposterous. [emphasis mine] (Permalink)

I would like to tout what happened to the Kennewick Man site as "a victory for Democratic enlightenment," but I guess I can't.  In fact, it probably is not even appropriate to view this as a liberal vs. conservative issue.  Rather, it is a libertarian vs. authoritarian issue.  The libertarian stance would be to let scientists study whatever they think is likely to be fruitful.  The authoritarian stance would be to enact restrictive legislation because of a ideological agenda.  Tim Lambert explains the left/right vs authoritarian/libertarian concepts on Deltoid

Political theory aside, my point in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly  was pragmatic.  We can argue all day whether the left or the right is more anti-science.  The question I care about is this: does the Bush administration manipulate, misuse, and misreport science.  The question, of who is to blame for the obliteration of the Kennewick archeological site, is not directly relevant. The "certain indifference" in this case, displayed by  the Bush administration, is consistent with an overarching pattern of conduct within the Administration.  I can't cite any single action and make a case that the Administration has a general pattern of misusing science; you can't make a pattern with a single point.  My intent was to show that there are many points, and that these points do form a pattern.  The pattern proves nothing about conservatives in general; it says a lot about the particular conservatives who occupy the White House right now. 
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