In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama famously promised to return "science to its proper place." The promise was an undisguised slap at his predecessor President George W. Bush for supposedly making science subordinate to faith in general, and for his decision limiting embryonic stem cell research to strains already in existence in particular.
President Obama never specified what he meant by the proper place of science, and it is doubtful if he has ever given much thought to the subject. Did he mean, for instance, that scientists should be given whatever they ask for? That science can dictate the proper answer to such questions as what are the proper limits, if any, to stem cell research?
In point of fact, President Bush's decision was both a compromise and model of moral seriousness, as Jay Lefkowitz convincingly demonstrated in a Commentary article on Bush's decision-making process. As he wrestled with the decision over a period of months, Bush sought the opinions of a wide-range of ethicists and scientists, and himself read and reread the answers they gave. Nothing so far indicates that the preening occupant of the White House is remotely capable of such moral seriousness. He probably assumes that he possesses it by virtue of an Ivy League degree.
Implicit in the promise to "return science to its proper place" was a claim that the new administration would be empirically based compared to the previous. It is an article faith on the Left that they are more empirical and scientific than the religious, nut-jobs on the Right. That assumption, however, needs to be questioned on a number of grounds.
First and foremost, in turns out that the Left does not much care for having its pet scientific theories subjected to open debate and tested in the marketplace of ideas. In a recent speech, President Obama proclaimed, "There is no longer a debate about whether carbon pollution is placing our planet in danger." In point of fact, there is serious debate on every point upon which the climate-change alarmists base their claims: the degree to which human caused emissions are responsible for climate change; the "optimal" climate; the likely impact of the cap-and-trade proposals versus their economic impact.
Far from their being no debate, the debate heats up daily. Earth temperatures turn out to be declining slightly of late, rather than rising, which has prompted a shift from discussions of global warming to something called catastrophic climate change. The computer models upon which the alarmists' predictions have been based have repeatedly failed the predictive test.
The Polish Academy of Science recently published a document challenging the climate change orthodoxy. And the new government in New Zealand rescinded its predecessor's cap-and-trade policies as soon as it came into office. The swing vote in the Australian Senate on the government's drastic environmental polices, Senator Steve Fielding, voted against, after first traveling to America to meet with both Obama adminstration science officials and scientific skeptics.
In Australia, public opinion has undergone a dramatic shift after a leading geologist, Dr. Ian Plimer published "Heaven and Earth," a thoroughgoing critique of the "evidence" of man-made global warming. One of Australia's leading columnists and an ardent believer in global warming, Paul Sheehan, described Filmer's book as a powerful warning against the "danger of ideology subverting evidence." More than five hundred scientists, including Richard Lindzen of M.I.T., one of the world's leading climate scientists, and Princeton physicists Will Happer and Robert Austin, have signed a petition questioning the scientific basis of the alarmists' claims. Even Professor John Christy, the lead author of the U.N.'s 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has produced reams of evidence casting doubt on the claim that we are experiencing dramatic climate change and questioning whether the steps proposed would have any impact.
Most interesting, for our current purposes, however, are the concerted efforts by the alarmists to claim unanimity where none exists by suppressing dissenting views and evidence. The new "experts" are not notably more empirically based than was Soviet genetics under Stalin. Norwegian Nobel Laureate in Physics Ivan Giaever calls global warming the "new religion."
Dr. Mitchell Taylor, one of the world's leading experts on polar bears, who has written that virtually all Artic bear populations have either grown over the last thirty years or at are optimal levels, was disinvited to a meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group leading up the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in December, on the grounds that his views on global warming are "unhelpful." When Alan Carlin, a 35-year employee of the Environment Protection Agency and a senior analyst with the EPA's Center for Environmental Economics, prepared a 100-page report questioning the agency's decision to classify carbon as a "pollutant," and thereby subject to EPA regulation without any Congressional action, he was ordered to bury the report and not disseminate it. So much for a policy based only on the "facts, just the facts."
THERE IS A SECOND SENSE in which, I believe, those on the Left tend to be less empirical – their lack of capacity to enter imaginatively into the impact of their grand designs and plans on individual lives. Columnist Suzanne Fields offered just a small example last week. Until recently 1700 black and Hispanic children in the District of Columbia were provided with $7,500 vouchers, which enabled them to attend private schools rather than the District's failing public schools. Competition for the vouchers was intense, with four poor black or Hispanic children applying for each voucher. They and their parents recognize that the vouchers represent their best hope of climbing out of poverty.
Yet the vouchers were terminated under the stimulus bill, even though they had not the vaguest relationship to stimulus, as a Democratic Party payoff to the teachers unions, which oppose vouchers in any and all forms. Thus, the President, whose own daughters are able to attend one of Washington's best private schools, simply signed off on the fate of 1,700 less fortunate black and Hispanic children.
In a similar case, a few years back, New York City announced the creation of a single-sex high school for girls in Harlem. Outraged feminists, however, led the charge against such a school. There are a large number of studies showing that young women tend to perform at a higher level in such single-sex schools. And one did not need a study to know that the young women who would be attending the Harlem school would learn better in an environment in which their physical safety was not under constant threat. But the real world advantage to black female teenagers in Harlem could not be allowed to contradict the theory.
These are small, but telling, examples of a phenomenon that will affect tens of millions of Americans if the administration's cap-and-trade regulation of carbon emissions or its efforts to completely restructure American health care delivery go into effect. It is all very well for the President to draw pretty pictures of all the jobs to be created by the new "green" economy. But those are no more than speculation. What is not speculation is that cap-and-trade will be very expensive and cause hundreds of thousands to lose their jobs. Even the President admits, cap-and-trade will cause electricity rates to shoot up, and thus constitutes a massive, hidden tax raise. By destroying the American coal industry and giving an advantage to foreign oil, produced with fewer environmental restrictions, cap-and-trade will, at least in the short-term, render America even more energy dependent than at present.
China, India, and Brazil, three of the world's rising economic superpowers, and each major polluters, have already made clear that they have no intention of limiting their carbon emissions. So cap-and-trade will not only fail to have any appreciable economic impact, it will cripple America economically vis-a-vis its major competitors.
On the health care front, the administration's Dr. Strangelove's have completely failed to contemplate what life under their health proposals would be like or how dramatically it would change the delivery of health care for doctors and patients alike. Can they really believe that the 80% of Americans who now say they are happy with their health care policies will tolerate being told that Avastin, the most effective drug against colon cancer, is no longer available, or that they have to wait eight months for colon cancer surgery, like their counterparts in Canada, until American colon cancer survival rates decline ten percent to those of Canada? Will 59-year-old Americans tolerate being denied arterial stents, as happens in Englan, or hundreds of other procedures because some faceless bureaucrat, looking at an actuarial chart (and with no knowledge of their own health), has determined that their remaining number of years don't justify the medical expenditure?
Obamacare proposes to expand medical coverage to fifty million more Americans and illegal immigrants with the same number of doctors. Not only will the number of doctors not increase to meet the demand, it is almost sure to decrease as fewer enter the profession. The loss of doctor autonomy over the choice of patient treatment, the increase of already hugely burdensome recordkeeping, and the likely decline in individual doctor-patient relationships will all make the practice of medicine far less enjoyable. And decreasing remuneration, even as huge medical malpractice premiums will continue to increase under Obamacare, ensure that fewer and fewer will enter the medical profession or undertake the years of advanced training that have made American medicine the envy of the world.
In the place of specifically tailored policy initiatives to provide some form of catastrophic health insurance for the poorest elements of society, malpractice reform (made impossible by the Democratic Party's support from trial lawyers), and steps to increase health insurance competition on the Swiss model, the mad social scientists in the adminstration opted instead to redesign in two months the entire system. And the system designed has simply failed to contemplate the experience of real people.
The problem is not that the administration's experts lack imagination. They have no problem conjuring up all manner of catastrophes – melting ice caps, rising oceans wiping out coastal America. And in all those scenarios, its is they who ride to the rescue once all power has been turned over to the experts. That, unfortunately, is not the imagination needed.