The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, March 17, 2006

How To Make War on Science

There has been a lot of attention paid, in the left blogosphere, to Chris Mooney's provocatively titled The Republican War on Science -- allegedly an expose of the Bush administration's hostility to stem-cell research and pliancy to global-warming contrarians. If this is a war on science, it is a mighty poor one.

If you are serious about making war on science, you would not want to focus on the diffuse and hard-to-control streams of federal funding. Instead, several more efficacious tools offer themselves.

First, decrease the rewards to innovation. The obvious mechanism for this is high marginal tax rates on large earnings, to discourage people from seeking innovations that will make them rich, and on capital gains, to discourage the greedy from funding them. But this is a very broad-spectrum tool, not really focused on the opponent. It would be better to foster a culture of entitlement and litigiousness, so that any benefits to society could be diverted into the pockets of plaintiffs and their lawyers.

Second, subsidize ignorance. Since scientific and technical education is more difficult to achieve than the ill-defined expertise offered in fuzzy fields like "media studies" and "managerial studies" and "women's studies", it is not even necessary to explicitly penalize it; simply subsidizing alternatives which lead to no real knowledge, as all State universities do, will suffice. Paying for bad teachers at lower levels, thus helping to ensure that university students will be unfit for scientific education, is a bonus.

Third, ration progress. A single-payer health system like Germany's, which is increasingly forced to ration or forbid modern drugs due to their high cost, militates against progress by removing the incentives which propel it. Implementing such a system in the world's largest healthcare market would have a far larger impact.

Finally, reward backwardness. If people fearful of progress and unwilling to innovate find themselves in jobs which no longer have any value to society, protect their earning power and insulate them from the consequences of their decisions.

Show me the party that does these things, and I will show you the real enemy of science.

[Cross-posted to Chequer-Board.]