Some scientists hate your ice cream. Others hate your nuts.

During the Bush years, this blog was highly critical of a top White House science advisor -- the Council on Bioethics Chairman Leon Kass. Not only was he against people living longer lives, but he had kooky views on a number of subjects which Justin dug out of books he had written in the 1970s.

So here we are, with the new hope-and-change administration, and a president who promised to end Bush's so-called "war on science."

Considering what had been said about Kass here, naturally I thought it was an improvement when I read that Obama had gotten rid of the Bioethics Council. But I've been reading more and more about Obama's science advisor John Holdren, and I see such eerie similarities between him and Leon Kass that I wonder what on earth is going on.

Kass wanted to prevent people from living longer and to that end, devoted much of his intellectual energy to the fight against life extension. In the 70s he opposed eating ice cream.

Holdren, OTOH, also wants to prevent people from living longer (if by a more direct methods, such as euthanasia), and back in the 1970s he opposed human reproduction and speculated about different ways of forcing humans to be sterilized. (He's also a "longtime prophet of environmental catastrophes.")

While I can't speak for others, despite everything I've said about Kass, if I had to choose between a guy who wanted to take away my ice cream and a guy who wanted to take away my ability to reproduce, I'd go with the ice cream bandit. Besides, when called to account in public, Kass at least had the decency to back away from the ice cream remarks, expressing regret for having had them in his book. OTOH, according to this analysis, Holdren does not regret his sterilization remarks and kooky catastrophic/Ehrlichist views. Has anyone ever asked him whether he still agrees with his idea of "de-developing" the United States? (What are the implications for the national "recovery"?)

I hate to say it, but I think Holdren actually makes Kass look moderate by comparison, despite the latter's documented kookiness. As to the game of playing musical chairs with scientists holding wacky views, how did such a thing happen? Has some permanent ecological niche been created in science, where the country drifts from one crackpot scientific advisor to another? Is there now a "consensus" that the top jobs in science should henceforth go to whatever activist crackpot the fringier elements of the president's base might demand? (Please, dear God, don't tell me that the Culture War has spread to science too.)

On the bright side, I complain a lot about how I hate politics, so I'm always looking for humor. And this is funny, right? Finding humor in politics is a relief, because politics is both tedious and oppressive. So I guess when science is politicized, science becomes a joke too. Hence the clowns at the top.

Your ice cream or your nuts?

OK, OK, I've thought it over! I I do think the old humor was funnier, at least by way of contrast with the present. And more harmless.

No matter how many scoops of ice cream it took.....

posted by Eric on 07.19.09 at 02:50 PM


Of course it's spread to science. There are any number of studies of post-modernism in various kinds of "science" wackiness. Reality is socially generated, you see, If a lot of people believe in Goreball Warming it's real, even if there's a glacier bearing down on New York. One of
Steven Pinker's books has a chpter on it and gives references.

John Costellol   ·  July 19, 2009 10:57 PM

I read ScienceBlogs often and the culture wars are well-entrenched in science.

Donna B.   ·  July 20, 2009 12:20 AM

Thanks for the link!

M. Simon   ·  July 20, 2009 1:52 AM

I've looked at Leon Kass's comments which riled you at the time. I didn't see anything absurd or dangerous there: certainly open to disagreement(slurp your ice cream cone if you so desire). Quite innocuous compared to what Mr. Holdren is recorded as saying and believing!

PJK   ·  July 20, 2009 5:09 PM

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