Commentary: World worries about fate of science
On Earth Day, thousands felt compelled to take to the streets in support of science. There is widespread concern that our current government is led by lawmakers ignorant of the concepts of reason and objective truth that science brings to the world. They are ruled instead by an overwhelming need for control at any cost and conspicuous disregard for facts. This march was in support of science, reason, scientific research, and their contributions to our modern world.
Scientists are widely trusted, far more than politicians. According to the Pew Research Center: “About three-quarters or more of Americans are confident in the military, medical scientists and scientists in general to act in the best interests of the public. But fewer than half of Americans report similar confidence in the news media, business leaders and elected officials.” Politicians, business leaders and the media are ranked well below.
What concerns brought people to the streets? Surely the contributions of science speak for themselves, are self-evident enough that we need not fear their disregard? For centuries science has lit the way for humanity, leading us out of the darkness, from “a world lit by fire” as author William Manchester described it, to a world where most individuals carry computing power unimaginable decades ago. We see across the universe to the beginning of time, manipulate atomic structures, develop cures for diseases plaguing humanity for centuries. Everything is touched by the explosion of reason and research, by the questioning and objective analysis of the scientific method.
On the first Earth Day in 1970, the environment was just beginning to receive recognition, as part of a widespread people’s movement toward personal freedoms and global awareness. Nixon, a Republican, was responsible for many environmental initiatives, including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and a National Environmental Policy Act requiring environmental impact statements on all regulations. Maybe this was partially a cynical attempt to divert attention from Vietnam, but significant progress resulted. The air and water became cleaner; science became more involved in curbing pollution and solutions to environmental issues. Earth was given some respect.
The current leadership of our republic has caused world citizens to be concerned about the fate of science in America. Obstruction and ignorance have gained precedence in public thinking. The assault against reason is not new with the current leadership, but it has intensified. For years, there has been denial of global warming, alternative theories about evolution, doubts about vaccination, blockage of stem cell research, widespread dismissal of observable facts. Even economic theory is subject to wishful thinking, with dogma replacing verifiable results. With the Republican monolith fed by years of misinformation, deceit and dark money, they have managed to spread distrust about government, and involved science in conspiracy theories about government. Somehow scientists all over the world have collaborated to create a conspiracy for the sole purpose of siphoning off research money and dragging the American economy down. Worsening droughts, heavier precipitation, extreme storms and a steadily rising global temperature are not proof of serious problems. The fossil record set in stone is open to debate when it comes up against cherished faiths. Stem cell research offended some folk’s sense of propriety despite offering hope and cures to many, so was neglected. Progress has been obstructed by a lack of imagination, adherence to dogma, and resistance to change.
Profits are one reason to deny the science. Businesses and corporations and powerful men, in the guise of creating choice and enhancing freedom, promote the discarding of regulations protecting the public. Dark money is used to spread disinformation about the climate. Agencies are prevented from fulfilling their assigned duties of serving the common interest.
American democracy and the document that designed it were inspired by the fresh winds of reason and science spurred by the Enlightenment. The Republican Party speaks loudly about loving democracy and the Constitution, but is the greatest offender when it comes to questioning the rule of reason. Challenging science and progress may seem expedient, showing short-term savings. The new budget threatens to under fund the EPA because it inconveniences business interests. Basic science research funding may be cut, educational opportunities reduced, and medical research curtailed.
Note that these powerful people denying environmental protections and progress are more sheltered and least affected by climate catastrophes. America, once the leader in science and progress, is being cheated by a short-sighted focus. Progress is being denied and the future compromised.
Steve Foreman is a Warren County resident.