Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The War On Science

Fred Grimm in the Miami Herald:

The wrath of God hardly needs forecasting. That would ruin the surprise now, wouldn’t it?

Sure, the Bush administration could fix what ails NOAA’s hurricane research program. The Bushies could find money to fix broken buoys, replace faulty weather balloons, repair radar stations and upgrade the obsolete computers employed by hurricane forecasters.

The administration could fund more flying time for the National Hurricane Center jet. Or hire replacements for departed weather scientists.

The additional expenditures would look like a bargain up against the cost of faulty predictions.

But good science hasn’t exactly been a presidential priority. Federal research budgets have been cut. Scientific findings at odds with political ideology have been altered or killed by political hacks. Politicos have overruled scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries.

[…]

Just last month, as Hurricane Rita bore down on the Gulf Coast, Sir John Lawton, chairman of Britain’s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said, “If this makes the climate loonies in the States realize we’ve got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation.”

See what happens when you give a bunch of pointy-headed scientists research money and modern equipment? Nothing but heresy.

[…]

Besides, the Christian Right, a much more important Bush constituency than guys in lab coats, prefers to think of hurricanes as instruments of divine retribution.

Several Christian fundamentalists groups suggested that New Orleans was targeted by Katrina because of the city’s propensity for drunkenness and debauchery. Philadelphia-based Repent America noted that the storm preempted the city’s gay pride festival.

Religious prophecy comes a hell of a lot cheaper than funding hurricane research. Who needs hurricane hunter jets and weather balloons? Any sinner inclined to party the night away on South Beach knows damn well where the next Big One is headed.

That reminds me of a little poem that was written after the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. The city was then known as the West Coast version of New Orleans with its many palaces of pleasure and distilleries:

If, as some say, God spanked the town
For being over-frisky,
Why did He burn the churches down
But save Hotaling’s Whiskey?

From The Good Years by Walter Lord.

It’s a lot cheaper to just sigh and say it’s the will of some supernatural power we can’t understand than to actually invest time and money in learning more about where hurricanes come from or predicting their paths. It also endears you to your base.