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Right-wing Attacks on Science Adviser Continue

john holdrenLast week, Chris Mooney described how the Washington Times and a cadre of right-wing bloggers have been fearmongering about John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Now FoxNews has jumped on the bandwagon with a story implying that Holdren advocated radical population control measures, a claim that is simply not the case, as he has made clear both in recent statements and in his Senate testimony. The repeated mischaracterization of his work and positions is a distraction from current pressing matters of science policy.

At issue is a chapter of the 1977 textbook Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment, for which Holdren was the third author with environmental activists Paul and Anne Ehrlich. First of all, FoxNews gets the name of the man in question wrong in the opening line of the story, claiming the President’s science adviser is “Paul Holdren,” and referring to him as a “science czar,” a title suggesting that he was appointed without Congressional oversight. But after he testified before the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm John Holdren as director of OSTP.

Mooney also pointed out that FoxNews commentator Sean Hannity is confused about how Holdren came to his post, claiming on air that “[Obama has] skirted the Senate confirmation process and has empowered individuals to see major offices now within the federal government, many of whom operate only under the supervision of the White House itself.” Again, for the benefit of the Fox researchers, here’s the video of the Senate testimony.

In Ecoscience, Holdren and the Ehrlichs explain that their section on overpopulation offers an overview of population control measures suggested by other writers, and some of these are extreme and coercive, including forced abortions and sterilization. But the text makes clear that Holdren does not support these measures, referring to the “obvious moral objections” on page 787 of the book. (Helpfully, Fox provides a .pdf of this very section.)

More importantly, Holdren stated during the Senate hearing that he does not support or endorse these ideas. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) asked him: “You think determining optimal population is a proper role of government?” to which Holdren replied: “No, Senator, I do not.” The exchange begins at 122:30 here; transcript here. As well, three months passed between the President’s announcement that he intended to nominate Holdren and the hearing itself—ample time to investigate his past and raise any salient concerns.

Mooney goes on in refuting the current criticism:

But wait, you may be wondering: How do I know that the Ehrlichs are right about the their 1977 text, and not the conservatives? Well, because I walked over to the Engineering Library on the Princeton University campus, where I’m located, and got the book. And I can see how one could misread a text this old—from such a different time. But nevertheless, the criticism of Holdren today on this basis is exceedingly thin and stretched. The book is three decades old; Holdren isn’t its first author; it takes a stance against such policies; and neither Holdren nor the Ehrlichs support these policies today, either. Couldn’t we talk about something that’s actually important and contemporary?

Here’s one suggestion for an important and contemporary science policy issue in OSTP’s portfolio: the recently released administration report on how climate change is already threatening the health and livelihoods of Americans across the country. Maybe Fox could consider 1300 words on the implications of that text.

Image: flickr.com/nationalacademyofsciences

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