How Republican Victories Might Start a Science War

Funding cuts plus hearings on climate science might get ugly

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We are now in Day Two of election day hangover. The good news is that attention has turned from the results to parsing the policy implications. You've heard the debate about how the Republican House majority may affect health care, tax cuts, and spending freezes. But what about science?

Yes, science. The New York Times' Kenneth Chang points out that "federal financing of science research, which has risen quickly since the Obama administration came to power, could fall back to pre-Obama levels if the incoming Republican leadership in the House of Representatives follows through on its list of campaign promises," which includes "cut[ting] discretionary nonmilitary spending to 2008 levels." Or how about that extra divisive field of climate science? There, things could really change. Climate change activists are alarmed.

  • Republicans to Put Climate Science on Trial  "The GOP," writes The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, "plans to hold high profile hearings examining the alleged 'scientific fraud' behind global warming, a sleeper issue in this election that motivated the base quite a bit."
  • Translation: 'Be Prepared for the Looming War on Science,' offers Sheril Kirshenbaum at Discover.
  • This Is Nothing New, But It Could Get Ugly  "The majority party controls congressional investigations," explains Dan Gillmor at Salon, and Republicans seem to "want to go after climate scientists." Gillmor reviews some previous science clashes--including President Bush's idea that "intelligent design should be taught in class"--and concludes that the technology industry (whose leaders really could have an "impact") isn't doing enough to "defend science, the bedrock of everything that makes this industry work."
  • None of the Republican Freshmen Believe in Climate Change  Think Progress's Brad Johnson crunches the numbers:
Following the Tea Party wave of the midterm elections, half of the Republican caucus in the U.S. Congress now questions the scientific consensus that greenhouse pollution is a civilizational threat. ... The U.S. House of Representatives now only has four Republicans who publicly admit that global warming pollution is real. ... It remains to be seen whether these nine Republican climate realists will do anything to stop the impending witch hunt against climate scientists by their conspiracy-minded caucus.
  • The Second Coming of the Scopes Trial  David Dayen at liberal Firedoglake is one of many to compare the potential hearings to the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial about the teaching of evolution in 1925. "So the Republicans run and win a campaign in a treacherous economic environment, when people are desperate for something tangible to improve their situation in life," he summarizes. "And the Republicans will start that new era by putting science on trial." He doesn't see many jobs being created this way.
The larger effort here is to weaken the EPA, who is under court order to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant. Over time, the even larger effort is to discredit climate science, and science itself, and allow the public the peace of mind of retreating into selfishness.
  • The Cast of Characters  You might recognize the "ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee" who "stands a good chance to take control"--and if you don't, Gawker's John Cook has you covered: Joe Barton, he explains, is "the Texas congressman who heroically apologized to BP for America's atrocious overreaction to the uncontrolled release of 180 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico." Cook's prediction: "It will be like Inherit the Wind, right down to the part where science loses."
  • Is the Assault on Science or the EPA? Or the Obama Administration?  The Los Angeles Times' Neela Banerjee digs into the matter, finding several different targets:
The GOP's fire will be concentrated especially on the administration's efforts to use the Environmental Protection Agency's authority over air pollution to tighten emissions controls on coal, oil and other carbon fuels that scientists say contribute to global warming.

The attack, according to senior Republicans, will seek to portray the EPA as abusing its authority and damaging the economy with needless government regulations.

In addition, GOP leaders say, they will focus on what they see as distortions of scientific evidence regarding climate change
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.