Jeffrey LewisOffice of Technology Assessment

Chris Mooney—writer for SEED magazine and author of the forthcoming The Republican War on Science—has an outstanding article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)—a nonpartisan technical authority abolished by the GOP-controlled Congress in 1995.

OTA’s archive remains an incredibly useful repository of factual information—publications like Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction are really gems. (Daniel Smith picks up the broader theme of Mooney’s book in an article for the New York Times.)

I’ve wondered about this Administration’s aversion to scientific advice, particulary as related to arms control issues. Mooney suggests the opposition to science reflects a kind ideological anti-intellectualism, an argument I don’t buy:

The prevailing notion is that “small-t” technocrats tend to be “big-D” Democrats, and produce skewed analyses that cannot be trusted. The sentiment goes hand in hand with a long-standing distrust among modern conservatives of what they view as the biases of university culture, the eastern Establishment, and even the “liberal media.”

I don’t buy that at all.

Republicans have been much smarter than Democrats in understanding that nominal changes in policy are often transient and inconsequential compared to the effect of structural changes to the bureaucracy charged with developing and implementing policies. (Though that intelligence sometimes takes bizarre form, such as Pat Robertson suggesting using a nuclear weapon to murder everyone in the State Department).

The decision to kill OTA looks almost precisely like Republican hostility toward the State Department, including efforts to dismantle the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and its successor bureau in the State Department.

Although I abhor both decisions, the real fools were Democrats who stood by lamely while Republicans in Congress removed structual impediments to their political agenda.

Late Update: Chris Mooney has a webpage.

Comments

  1. Allen Thomson (History)

    > The decision to kill OTA looks almost precisely like Republican hostility toward the State Department, including efforts to dismantle the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and its successor bureau in the State Department.

    And, let me suggest, the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, which was clearly on the right-wing hate list going back to the Team B exercise of the late ‘70s and beyond. The DI has an unfortunate tendency to bend with the wind at times, but it also has (or had) a strong ethic of calling things as it saw them.

    Speaking truth to power isn’t good for your health.

  2. Josh Narins (History)

    I think you are focussing too heavily on that one snippet of Mooney’s work.

    He mentions clearly the role of the defense contractors (ok, indirectly) in his “Reagan’s Revenge” for stopping SDI.

    He talks about small government.

    I don’t think he was giving all the blame to the modern religious right, the faction now in power and which has the biggest problem with science.

    G Washington had T Jefferson and A Hamilton arguing in front of him, and in their respective press outlets, in the most strenuous way.

    GW Bush simply fires those who disagree.

    Independent opinion is something to be managed, not encouraged.

    The sad tale of former Congressman Parker is illustrative.

    http://orig.clarionledger.com/news/0203/07/m05.html

Pin It on Pinterest