Book Review: Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America

The context for many of our posts and all of our editorials is science. Endeavoring to understand and highlight the facts associated with elections impacting election integrity, reasoning from those facts, encouraging open debate, and choosing alternatives based on facts and reason. There are limits to science and reason: Some facts are difficult to establish, there are trade-offs, subjective values, and future speculation involved. Yet, we ignore facts, reason, and open debate at our peril.

When it comes to election integrity, we note the many articles on elections and election reform are often emotional, subjective, one-sided, or inappropriately balanced. The same lack of rigor is often present in arguments raised by and to election officials and legislators considering election reform. Some current examples include:

  • The initiatives for voter Id and unlimited absentee balloting. One side claiming massive voter fraud and the other claiming a dearth of document fraud. While the reality derived from the facts available seems to indicate very rare individual voter fraud, but cases of deliberate  multiple absentee voter fraud discovered in several localities after every election. Reason adds that deliberate multiple vote frauds are much more likely to effect results than individual frauds.
  • Internet/online voting is technically risky and open to fraud. We constantly read that “If we can do banking online, we should be able to do voting online” – with little recognition of the science that says voting is more risky and the significant level of banking fraud, especially given that banking fraud is much easier to detect than voting fraud. We seldom hear the question “If an army private can access all the secrets on military computers, how can anyone make online voting safe on personal computers?”
  • We hear calls for Election Day Registration and unlimited absentee balloting in the name of increasing turn-out, yet little recognition of the growing evidence that Election Day Registration increases turn-out, but that unlimited absentee voting does not increase turn-out, may actually decrease turn-out, and the speculation that early voting may actually help well financed candidates.
  • In Connecticut we hear how burdensome the post-election audits are on town budgets and the inconvenience to election officials. We seldom hear that statewide the audit costs are just a small fraction of the costs of printing ballots, and a percent or two of the salaries of the election officials who are inconvenienced in the interests of public integrity and confidence in elections.

The recent book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, articulates the need for science, the scientific method, and their increasing banishment from public discourse. Despite our own experience dealing with this problem in and with the media, legislature, congress, and in discussions with officials, reading this book provided additional insight into the causes and dangers of ignoring science as a basis for society.

Some of the insights I gained from the book:

  • In the name of saving money, almost all newspapers have eliminated their science sections.
  • It is not considered appropriate to discuss science in the political section of newspapers, however, it is fine to discuss economics and religion.
  • The author was one of many suggesting a science debate during the 2008 presidential election, with many petitioners, the debate was rejected by both campaigns. Many science questions were suggested to moderators in other debates in areas such as stem cells, global warming, etc. In all the debates, only a couple of science questions were asked, ironically in the two religion debates.
  • Excluding medical professionals such as Senator Paul and Representative Paul we are down to one scientist in the entire Congress, Representative Rush Holt from New Jersey.
  • The pubic and scientists are cultured to believe that science should be accomplished quietly in the laboratory and that it is inappropriate for scientists to be at the table and part of the public debate. (So, when election technology is discussed it is presumed that election officials and vendors can sufficiently represent the science and technology at the table).
  • Still many of our public policy questions involve science and applications of the scientific method; Global warming, fracking, health, defense technology, NASA projects, and disease prevention. Many issues involve detailed economic and statistical calculations or could benefit from rigorous scientific studies including public health, crime, punishment, improving the economy, creating jobs, the value and funding of entitlement programs.

A couple of snippets:

The Great Dumbing Down

…As a result [of newspapers cutting science sections], Americans find themselves in an absurd and dangerous position: In a time when the majority of the world’s leading country’s larges challenges revolve around science, few reporters are covering them from the scientific angle.

In Europe, by contrast, just the opposite is happening: Science coverage has increased. A 2008 analysis of prime-time news on selected European TV stations showed that there were 218 science-related stories (including science and technology, environment, and health) among 2,676 mews stories aired during the same week in the years 2003 and 2004, and eleven-fold increase since 1989. And in the developing world, science is “flourishing”

Republican Science

By its very nature science is both progressive and conservative.

conservative: retentive of knowledge and cautous about making new assertions until they are fully defensible


progressive: open to wherever observation leads, independent of belief and ideology, and focused on creative knowlege

It would thous be a mistake to characterize scientists as mostly Democrats or mostly Republicans. They are mostly for freedom, creativity, caution, and knowledge — and not intrinsically of one or another party. In the early twenty-first century the party that most stands for freedom, openness, tolerance, caution, and science is the Democratic Party…

Early in the twentieth century this situation was almost reversed. Republican Abraham Lincoln had created the National Academy of Sciences in 1863. Republican William McKinley, admired by Karl Rove, won two presidential elections, in 1896 and 1900, both times over the anti-evolution Democrat William Jennings Bryan, and supported the creation of the Bureau of Standards

Finally, we note the contradictions in the often held beliefs that science can solve any problem: “If we can go to the moon, those scientists can solve global warming, protect us from nuclear waste, and make internet voting work if they would just work on it” and almost simultaneously strong questioning of the consensus scientific views that we are near irreversible global warming and that the earth is more than 10,000 years old.


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