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Separation of 'science' and state

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With President Obama now in office through 2016, a relentless threat lurks in his second administration, sly and irresistible. It is the corps of government scientists who failed to amass all the power over development that they expected during his first term.

What do scientists know and how do they know it? And why does a scientist's vote on public policy issues count more than yours or mine?

Scientists learn by observing and measuring natural events, guessing why they happen, then quarreling about it in contentious conferences and journal articles within their exclusive community of scholars. Their vote counts more than ours, often not because of their genuine expertise, but because someone in government finds them politically useful. What you say is just your opinion, but if you can get a scientist to say it, it must be true.

Although it does happen on occasion, scientists rarely fake results for those who sign their paychecks. Far more often, they come equipped with inescapable personal preferences, some of which can benefit the political agendas of bureaucrats and politicians. Those biases are often the result of self-selection -- which science has a student chosen to pursue, and which of its tenets will become his deeply held articles of faith? Witness, for example, the conservation biologist's de fide belief that all human activity harms or destroys nature.

Conservation biology has been defined as "nature without humans." Back in 1999, U.S. Forest Service scientist Richard Everett told me, "Conservation biology is concerned only with plant and animal habitat and does not consider human use of the land." He added that human use of the land, air, water -- everything -- is to some conservation biologists an abomination, even a violation of scientific articles of faith.

When President Clinton sent University of Washington professor Bob Lee to work on a vital-timber plan with a team of conservation biologists, he was outraged by their open intent to destroy the logging industry, and by their haughty disregard of human rights and the democratic process. He ended up leaving the project to write a book about it: "Broken Trust, Broken Land: Freeing Ourselves From the War Over the Environment."

Conservation biologists provide the perfect cover for the natural-resource bureaucracy's incestuous practice of giving Big Green groups what they want, in return for lobbying to expand agency budgets and power: "Well, Senator, the scientists say it's true."

These links are nearly invisible to the public, but virtually every regulation that comes out of a federal agency at the behest of Big Green has been vetted and approved by staff scientists -- against logging, against farming, against ranching, against hard-rock mining, against oil and gas drilling, against coal.

In the second Obama term, what will we see? On Wednesday, we saw shares of U.S. coal companies plunge. One report said, "Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources ended trade down more than 12 percent, while Peabody Energy closed 9.6 percent."

Another report said that analysts at ClearView Energy Partners in Washington "expect Obama to continue prosecuting energy policy through regulation and administrative action, with only the courts as a check on that agenda."

We will certainly see Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and longtime champion of America's industrial might, fighting against the Obama administration's overreaching bureaucracy.

And perhaps he will insist that we put a little distance among scientists, agency leaders and Big Green activists.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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Ron Arnold

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The Washington Examiner