Sound science

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A dirty dozen gems about

Denialism

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Not just a river in Egypt
...it seemed that by "sound science" the administration meant science that gave the "right" predetermined answer.
James Hansen[1]

Sound science has two meanings. When used by scientists it means robustly supported science, confirmed by multiple peer-reviewed studies. When used in politics (generally by wingnuts) it means ideologically sound science, i.e. a euphemism for industry-funded pseudoscientific bullshit.

It is difficult to pin down the exact political meaning because it is a weasel phrase. It seems to be most often used to mean "some bogus 'research' we just cooked up in a think tank". Alternatively, it can also be a play on the uncertainty tactic by demanding 100% definitive, irrefutable proof of something before it is deemed an "acceptable" scientific foundation for policy. If, for example, government agencies issue inconvenient warnings about global warming or environmental degradation, politicians may dismiss them as "junk science" because they allegedly "ignore a great deal of uncertainty on this issue", and demand "sound science" in their place, as happened under the George W. Bush administration over such controversial topics as the link between junk food and obesity, mercury in power station smokestacks and mercury pollution of water sources, the debate over anthropogenic climate change, possible links between smoke inhalation and cancer and the like. Such demands for exact certainty are not in line with mainstream scientific practice and downplay the fact that a substantial consensus may already exist.

An opposite phrase that almost always appears alongside "sound science" is "junk science," which roughly translates not to pseudoscience, but established science that goes against a rigid ideology or might cut into the funder's profits. The term is most commonly used by anti-environmental astroturf campaigns and, sometimes, creationists. In any case, the "sound/junk science" dichotomy is usually a sign that blatant pseudoscience is involved.

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[edit] Astroturf and Republican usage

It is unknown exactly where the term originated from, but its earliest usage seems to come from an astroturf campaign initiated by tobacco companies to deny the risks of second-hand smoke in the early 1990s. In 1994, Philip Morris and a PR firm created The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), headed up by industry-backed shysters Steve "the Junkman" Milloy and Michael Fumento. TASSC's site hosted Milloy's "Junk Science" page until it went defunct in the late '90s (though the site lives on to this day, unfortunately), which spread copious amounts of denialism, including second-hand smoke denial, DDT denial, and global warming denial.

Various Republican officials have invoked the "sound/junk science" phraseology. Reps. Chris Cannon (R-UT) and Jim Gibbons (R-NV) formed a "Sound Science Caucus" in the early 2000s to oppose EPA regulations, it became a buzzword for administration officials during the Dubya years, and Frank Luntz encouraged lawmakers to use the phrase in his global warming memo.[2]

[edit] Creationism

The term can be found in some creationist/Intelligent Design literature, though less often than in the cases described above. A few examples include the Discovery Institute's invocation of the phrase in response to the leaking of the Wedge Document and its use on some creationist websites.[3]

[edit] Other uses

Admittedly, not every use of the term is interchangeable with bullshit. Some scientists defending actual science will occasionally use the term without knowledge of its euphemistic doublespeak status.

[edit] No relation to

  • Sound money, though tracts using either term generally tend to be full of bullshit.
  • Acoustics, the science of sound.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Storms of My Grandchildren, p. 94 [1]
  2. Beware "Sound Science": It's Doublespeak for Trouble and The Fraud of "Sound Science by Chris Mooney
  3. This one, for example
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