War on Science
And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free - John VIII-XXXII
"PITTSBURGH — I meet science skeptics everywhere.
Buses, planes, supermarkets — all are packed with people eager to share their doubts that GMOs are safe and that climate change is real, even more so when they find out I’m a scientist.
For the most part, I’ve shrugged off their skepticism. I’m in my first year as a graduate student in the biomedical sciences in Pittsburgh. I’ve assumed that people who ignore well-established science wouldn’t be in position to influence public policy and make decisions that could affect us all.
Events in the past few days convinced me I am wrong.
With news that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who distrusts vaccines, might be leading a vaccine safety committee under President-elect Donald Trump, that a man who doesn’t believe in climate change has been nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and that a man who doesn’t want to ensure that drugs actually work before they are marketed has been considered to lead the Food and Drug Administration, the Trump presidency seems poised to lead a war on science. I worry, as I progress in my career, that if government doesn’t like the results of my research, they’ll proclaim it false and discredit me. I’m not the only one.
Scientific findings can be unpopular. But scientists are acutely aware of the economic and political impact of their findings, because we’re people too. We engage in society and live lives just like everyone else. I like to drive — this is a fact. Cars use fossil fuels — also a fact. Fossil fuels lead to global warming — this has been shown over and over again. Not by one scientist but by many, in many different ways. So as much as I like to drive constantly, I should probably drive less. I’m not happy about it, but the evidence is there, and I have to change my behavior to prevent something catastrophic from happening. I can’t just say that because I don’t believe the evidence, that it’s not true.
Scientific findings can make us uncomfortable. They don’t always provide the easy answers we want to hear. Vaccines are safe. It’s a coincidence, a sad coincidence, that children start exhibiting signs of autism around the same time they get vaccines. But that coincidence isn’t cause. Already, we are seeing signs of what vaccine skepticism produces — outbreaks of diseases we had more or less vanquished. As much as we want an easy fix for autism, the research shows that vaccines are not the problem, and avoiding facts only creates more diseases and pain.
How do we know these facts? We repeat experiments. We submit our work for peer review. We don’t assume things are a certain way until we can show that they are. My work is constantly being critiqued and refined and challenged, even within my own lab. In my previous column, I wrote about how my work impacts my boss’s career. It’s in my boss’s best interest that I’m as sure as I can be about my science. Otherwise, there are no diagnostic tests. There are no drugs. There are no treatments.
Yes, fraud and retractions happen. But those incidents are not the bulk of scientific progress.
So why should government and the public trust scientists? We get no personal gain from telling you what you don’t want to hear. We just want policy to be based on scientific consensus, not on opinion, not on emotions, not on the potential for financial gain.
So, I’m scared. Most, if not all, of my graduate training will happen during the Trump presidency in an atmosphere hostile to science. I wonder, will my work have any relevance? Will the project I pour my life into help anyone? If I am able to discover new facts about the world or new therapies, will anyone be listening? I fear that science will get relegated to the land of alchemy or magic where it is ignored because no one believes it is real.
And as a profession, we are scared. We are scared that funding will be cut for work that doesn’t meet a political or financial agenda. We are scared that research will end for things that are crucial to knowledge, but that may lead to unpopular answers. We are scared that fear of science will bring back diseases we’ve beaten, slow progress toward treating others, and create a world where anything that feels wrong is wrong.
I’m scared of that world. You should be too."
, How a Washington ‘war on science’ could imperil my career, StatNews.com, January 13, 2017.
The challenge of creating a public able to parse evidence-free “facts” rests with the press, educators and other thought leaders.
President Trump is waging a "war on science," but rogue scientists—including many within the government—are fighting back.
Despite the ever worsening raid on natural resources, documented climate change, and scientific advances in the medical field, there is still a movement fomenting within the U.S. that regards scientific fact as fiction. These conspiracy theories even exist in the halls of power, conspiring with a kind of general apathy among other leaders when it comes to environmental issues to create a tepid response to a list of growing concerns that, if treated with inaction or denial, may bring broad-reaching economic, medical, and natural consequences over time.
People who oppose vaccines, GMOs and climate change evidence may be more anxious than antagonistic.
Not all opinions are created equal. So why do news media so often go out of their way to place those hocking scientifically unsupported fringe beliefs on the same footing as those espousing the near unanimity of the scientific community?
Very few scientists are Republicans. And it's no wonder when you consider how Republican lawmakers are walking and talking when it comes to science. But while this may be politics as usual, it's no good for any of us—including Republicans themselves.
In the same way that fighting the War on Journalism delegitimizes the press by making it seem partisan and petty, so might the present fight against the War on Science sap scientific credibility. By confronting it directly, science activists may end up helping to consolidate Trump’s support among his most ardent, science-skeptical constituency. If they’re not careful where and how they step, the science march could turn into an ambush.
In the time of Trump, "the death of fact" is the lament of the Left. But insisting that the Right is wrong about facts is to forget that belief is all any of us ever has.
Is Greenpeace committing a crime against humanity?
A letter from 110 Nobel laureates suggests as much. It urges the environmental group to drop its campaign against genetically modified foods, particularly so-called “Golden Rice,” which could help prevent millions of deaths in the developing world.
We are scared that fear of science will bring back diseases we’ve beaten, slow progress toward treating others, and create a world where anything that feels wrong is wrong.
I’m scared of that world. You should be too.
We don’t yet know what the ultimate result of these freezes and gag orders may be particular if their happens to be a food safety or health issue that occurs while these organization are prohibited from informing the public about these hazards, because they can’t talk to the press.
A common current attribute of denial is that it side-steps the peer-reviewed literature and relies on platforms such as internet blogs or tabloid newspapers to disseminate its dissent from the scientific mainstream. In contrast, the publication of dissenting views in the peer-reviewed literature does not constitute denial.
The war on science isn’t really against science, per se. It’s about keeping the game of politics in the arena of belief rather than knowledge by denying facts at all costs.
Given the swift and cutting nature of the US government’s response to science, I thought I’d collate some resources here on what Canadians experienced during the War on Science, and what they did to fight back.
Millennials are different. They’re connected through social media, and by and large they aren’t as self-absorbed. They are much more egalitarian in their views, and believe in justice, diversity, and tolerance in ways that the Boomers did not. So I think that there is an opportunity there for a large sea-change to happen.”
When rising oceans swamp coastal communities or unvaccinated children fall to outbreaks of measles or mumps or whooping cough, you can’t pin that on a crooked media or a rigged election. It's simply the way the fact-based world works. That's a lesson the Trump Administration had best learn — before we all pay the price.
The mission of 500 Women Scientists is to promote a diverse and inclusive scientific community that brings progressive science-based solutions to local and global challenges.
The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Since 2008, we have crowdsourced thousands of questions about the top science issues affecting us, from climate change to healthy foods to vaccines to energy and jobs, and asked the candidates for president and congress what they would do. Asking these questions has changed the national dialogue, media coverage, and the presidency.
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.