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A Requiem for Technocracy

STONY BROOK – In 2010, when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal unveiled a $220 million scheme to use sand berms to block the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a British Petroleum oilrig, scientists opposed the plan, stating that it would do little more than harm local ecosystems. Even after the national commission investigating the spill declared the initiative a failure for having captured only 1,000 of the nearly five million barrels of oil believed to have gushed into the Gulf, Jindal did not relent, calling the statements “partisan revisionist history at taxpayer expense.”

Jindal’s response reflects an ongoing – and potentially catastrophic – shift away from science-based policymaking. This is not how I imagined twenty-first-century politics would be. When I was a graduate student in the humanities in the 1970s, my mentors thundered against the coming technocratic state. Politicians, I was told, would soon listen only to experts who would sacrifice human values for the sake of efficiency, while ordinary citizens’ voices would be drowned out.