Joe Buff is a professional writer on national security and defense preparedness. He is also a novelist of tales of near-future warfare featuring nuclear submariners and Navy SEALs in action at their bravest and best. Two of Joe's non-fiction articles on future submarine technology and tactics, which appeared in The Submarine Review, received literary awards from the Naval Submarine League. His latest novel now out in paperback, Crush Depth, made the Military Book Club's Top 20 Bestseller List after being selected as a Featured Alternate of the Club in late 2002. His most recent work, Tidal Rip, was released from Wm. Morrow in hardcover in November, 2003, and quickly made the Amazon.com Top 100 General Thrillers Bestseller List. Joe's next novel, Straits of Power, is scheduled for hardcover release in autumn, 2004.
Joe is a Life Member of the following organizations: U.S. Naval Institute, the Navy League of the United States, the Fellows of the Naval War College, CEC/Seabees Historical Foundation, and the Naval Submarine League. Joe's father was an enlisted man in the Navy (Seabees in the Pacific Theater) from 1948 through 1953, and his uncle was a merchant mariner on the North Atlantic convoys late in World War II, before being drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the Occupation of Nazi Germany.
Science is the foundation behind technology and engineering, which in turn are vital pillars of national defense. Relative advantages in scientific and mathematical know-how have helped determine the outcome of every major war for at least two centuries -- even for two-plus millennia. (Archimedes was perhaps at his greatest as a military engineer.) Thus science affects not only a nation's quality of life, economic vitality, and standing on the world stage. Science influences a country's survival.
Yet American science is at war with itself. As the presidential campaign heats up toward 2 November 2004, this ongoing war is becoming both more evident, and more relevant. The war is not about "junk science" or "pseudo science." It's being fought, if that's the proper word, by highly credentialed and deeply respected academics and researchers. I believe the science war has resulted because of a conflict between what science ideally should be, or ought to be, and what in the real world science actually turns out to be. Part of the scientific community, in fact, has jumped on the bandwagon of that intramural blood sport, electioneering -- and thus serves inadvertently as a test case and a learning tool for the military. This is because scientists, by weighing in on partisan politics and calling in doubt public policy, in my opinion have begun to undertake heightened Knowledge Warfare. Knowledge Warfare is defined as the broadest strategic level of manipulating how a populace thinks and makes decisions -- it includes information warfare (using cyberspace), and psychological warfare (a classic stratagem).
Science is supposed to be founded on objectivity, solid proof, and a spirit of open inquiry. The essence of this is called the Scientific Method, whereby an hypothesis is stated, and then experiments are performed to either validate or invalidate the hypothesis. A key part of the Scientific Method is that those experiments have results which are reproducible by independent laboratories. A crucial aspect of advances in science is that papers summarizing the results of studies be subjected to stringent peer review. The bottom line in peer review is whether or not the experimental results are correct and support the conclusions stated in the paper.
Alas, if only it were that simple. Scientists are known to often be severely competitive, are not exactly famous for their modesty, and pet theories sometimes become sacred cows or even rigid dogma. Many scientists are extremely conservative when it comes to new ideas that could demolish the established order.
Big Science, as it has been called by commentators and journalists for years, is about three things: funding, funding, and funding. Much of that funding comes from the federal government. Consequently, science itself represents a form of pork barrel. It has its vested interests, its bitter rivalries, its successes and its failures, its insiders and outsiders. Scientists are, after all, human beings, with all the potential foibles inherent in the human condition. At any one time, Big Science Ph.D.s fragment into the haves and the have-nots.
And this is becoming all too clear right now.
Several dozen scientists just issued a joint statement that accuses the Bush administration of distorting or turning a deaf ear to scientific facts, in order to justify policies that do not serve the public well -- or actually cause major harm. The Union of Concerned Scientists also released a report, on the same day, making similar accusations. The subject matter in which these incidents of censorship, suppression, and stacking of advisory committees are alleged to have occurred runs the gamut from the environment to public health to nuclear arms.
These subjects are, obviously, intimately connected to the problems of weapons of mass destruction, energy sufficiency, and the ongoing Global War on Terror, which in turn are deeply intertwined. The charges by these scientists are very serious.
As quoted in the February 19 New York Times, Dr. John H. Marburger III, science advisor to President Bush the Younger, responded by saying that the adversarial report included a list of "largely disconnected" occurrences which did not justify the main conclusions of the report. Dr. D. Allan Bromley, science advisor to Dubya's father, President Bush the Elder, reiterated that the accusatory statement made "sweeping generalizations" for which "very little detailed backup" was supplied. If Dr. Marburger and Dr. Bromley are speaking honestly, the two documents -- the joint statement and the UCS's report -- fail to pass peer review. As empirical analyses of the current Bush administration's behavior, they violate the Scientific Method.
Probably neither side in this imbroglio is entirely blameless. The White House could certainly take more pains to be better listeners. The dissenting scientists might have expressed their concerns earlier, since most of the "data" from which they drew their conclusions had already been published in the popular or scientific media. By releasing the joint statement and the UCS report simultaneously, and right as the contours of the 2004 presidential contest are firming up, an appearance of political intent is inevitable. This intent was quickly denied.
Damage has been done, all around, because questions about agenda and partisanship have been raised which, once raised, cannot easily be put to rest. This is Knowledge Warfare at its best and at its worst -- it may have backfired, to the detriment of American society as a whole. The public now does not know quite what to think or whom to trust. The credibility of distinguished scholars might be compromised, if they step beyond their core competencies (physics, biochemistry, etc.), into the political arena, and then make drastic pronouncements to which attention is drawn by their academic prestige. There are few things worse than a Nobel laureate using that title to try to dabble aggressively in electoral affairs -- if that's indeed what has happened. It's thought-provoking, and rather troubling, that the joint statement and the UCS report offer complaints and condemnations but few actionable, constructive solutions -- other than the presumptive implication to call for someone else to be president and commander in chief next year. It also strikes me as arrogant to state that only a scientist is capable of interpreting properly the practical impact of research results.
Controversy within science is inevitable, and desirable, to facilitate forward progress toward a better and more accurate understanding of the natural world. Properly focused involvement of science in public policy is essential. Science is the handmaiden and queen of the modern battlefield. But when practitioners cease staying aloof from the fray of a race for the White House, unfortunately nobody wins.