How did science become something to deny? How, 500 years after Copernicus, 400 years after Galileo, 300 years after Newton, 200 years after Jenner, 100 years after Einstein did we begin to doubt the evidence we gather from observable phenomena and repeatable experiments?
Cui bono? That’s Latin for “who benefits?” When I look at science denial that way, my question becomes not How, but Why? And then, cui bono? Who?
Why do some people say that DDT and PCBs aren’t a risk to humans and animals?
Why do some people say that cigarette smoking isn’t a cause for cancer?
Why do some people say that antibiotics in animal feed don’t lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs?
Why do some people say that human activities don’t contribute to climate change?
Fossil fuel industries.
Denying science is a profit-based paradigm. Legislators take campaign contributions and expense-paid junkets from companies that need their votes to continue to profiting from science denial. The current administration strips power and effectiveness from science-intensive and environmental and consumer protection agencies by slashing budgets, shuttering facilities, firing staff, shutting down websites, criminalizing dissent, and disparaging their missions.
For state and federal legislators, resisting these industry-promoted inducements requires some backbone and a strong grip on principles and reality.
One reality of science denial that isn’t given enough attention, I believe, is the damage it does to our security at home and abroad. Denying the efficacy of vaccines leads to an upsurge in communicable diseases. Denying the truth of evolution forces schools to dumb-down the science curriculum. Denying the validity of science generally increases the likelihood we’ll be overtaken economically by reality-based countries.
In the 1990s, one of my friends worked for Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, a physicist who was the Chief Negotiator and head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.S./USSR Nuclear Testing Talks in Geneva from 1988-90. In about 1994, Ambassador Robinson told her that wars would be fought over access to water. In 2005, the Ambassador was the keynote speaker at the Center for Strategic & International Studies workshop on Global Water Futures. At those meetings, scientists discussed ways to help protect the earth’s water resources. Note, please … scientists discussed this. They showed graphs and charts, they delivered presentations, they argued, they shared data, they proposed solutions. Scientists and experts. Not lobbyists. Not CEOs. Not Breitbart, InfoWars, or FoxNews conspiracists.
Climate change is a national security issue. Denying that ice caps are melting, that deserts are expanding, that forests are disappearing, that wildfires are raging does not make those environmental disasters go away. Denial of these crises prevents us from addressing the security challenges caused by climate change. For awhile, the developed world will be somewhat protected from the daily deprivations of worsening conditions. True, in America we may have stronger hurricanes, fiercer fires, icier winters, more blistering summers, and water flowing through Miami’s streets at high tide. However, we have protections in place to mitigate most dangers: we have infrastructure, communications, and transportation. Some of our fellow citizens will die each year from threats born out of damage done to the earth. But in some parts of the world, which experience climate change as famine, disease, destruction of food sources and shelter, hundreds of thousands of people have already died. These people are seeing the eradication of their cultures, and they know with grim certainty that not having enough water or food is a catalyst for war. How long before we know that, too?
Legislators and other elected and appointed government officials can show some respect for science by:
- Not accepting campaign funds, gifts, or services from any of the following industries: fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, chemical, or tobacco, nor from any PAC or individual supporting their interests.
- Carefully studying any proposed legislation that purports to be based on science paid for by any organization or institution supported or sponsored by any of those industries.
- Supporting full funding of departments and agencies that are science-based, that provide environmental and consumer protections, and for the Public Broadcasting System, National Public Radio, the National Endowment of the Arts, and other mediums of communication that support the dissemination of scientific information.