Saturday, October 10, 2015

The war on science

The video above is from ASAP Science, but it’s unlike their usual stuff. Rather than explaining a scientific concept in a way that’s friendly and accessible, this video talks instead about the war on science. It’s a good video.

While the particular video is indirectly related to the Canadian elections (the ASAP Science lads are Canadian), what this video talks about is applicable to many countries, most especially the USA. Denying science is a recipe for disaster, and something that, left unanswered, will lead inevitably to a new Dark Ages—at best.

We can change that. We can support science and science funding, and we must reject politicians of any party who deny science. It turns out, ordinary people get this last part in particular.

According to a new poll, 87% of Americans think that “candidates running for Congress or president should have a basic understanding of the science that informs public policy decisions.” Absolutely they should!

Instead, we see American politicians puffing out their chests with pride that “I’m not a scientist” as they deny mainstream science on climate change, vaccines, diet and nutrition, health and medicine, the environment—the list is endless. If scientific literacy was a requirement for elective office, maybe we’d finally see more sensible public policy, more reason- and fact-based debate, and less crude and crass pandering grandstanding by politicians who come across as anti-intellectual buffoons.

Anti-intellectualism is a growing problem in the USA, as most people know. Patricia Williams wrote an article for The Guardian back in 2012 showing how that typically plays out in the USA. Not much has changed. And, by the way, not all American anti-intellectualism is not all rightwing.

We can all be outraged about the politically-motivated revisionist history books made for Texas that describe African slaves brought to the USA in chains as “immigrants” and “workers”, and we should be outraged. But how much more goes on that we never hear about? How much bad policy is written and implemented because of politically-motivated denial of scientific evidence? How much bad policy is made because of mere ignorance of scientific evidence?

We can change that, too. We should encourage strong STEM education in our public schools so that the kids who grow up to be politicians have at least some very basic understanding of the scientific concepts they’re not just bloviating about, but also legislating about.

This is an area in which we all have a responsibility to act. Like those clownish politicians, I’m no scientist, but unlike them, I know how vital it is to humanity that those who are scientists can get on with the work of science. Politicians come and go, and whether humanity does, too, will depend in large part on whether or not we support science.

We must win the war on science.

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