Millions worldwide, and tens of thousands in Portland alone, took to the streets recently. Was it an anit-war protest, a tax resistance protest, a “throw the bums out” protest? No. Embarrassingly, these millions were in the streets to support science. That’s right, basic Reality Studies. While it’s nice to see so many people caring about something so fundamental to civilization, it’s infuriating that they had to at all. While respect for science has been on the rise since about the sixteenth century it’s under fire today. Global warming denialism is perhaps the most glaring example, but there are others like vaccinations and fracking. Strongly held beliefs and “alternative facts” are held in the same esteem as provable facts and objective reality. It’s annoying enough when our neighbors think that way but downright dangerous when our political leaders do the same. For those who think Objective Reality can fend for itself, we offer this repast of rancor from past Furious columns to show exactly how science can be ignored, perverted, or flipped on its head to serve masters other than truth. You’ll be aghast at how bad things have gotten, enraged at how bad they could get, and hopefully energized to stand up for science the next time you see it under threat…
The certainty of Science is paradoxically built around questions and doubt. The most revered theories can always be overthrown by better ones, and some big ones have fallen in the past. No matter how sure we are of today’s science there’s always the possibility we’re wrong and that better explanations might appear. Although they can be proven false, scientific theories can never be proven true. That’s the type of doubt science depends on for its existence.
There’s another kind of doubt, though, a false doubt that perverts this fundamental strength of science and rationality to attack it. This type of doubt doesn’t offer new insights or better explanations of its own, but it says to disbelieve science anyway because it’s not proven. There may be many motivations for this cancerous type of doubt; greed, ideology, ignorance, fear, maybe others. But whatever their motivation these doubtcasters need shills to give their tripe some tenuous connection to reality.
When they do, they turn to a small and reliable stable of carriers ready to transmit their disease. For this month’s News To Make You Furious we introduce you to Scientists for Sale, the intellectual prostitutes (no offense to prostitutes) who spit at the achievements of humanity’s best minds. When you’re suitably apoplectic about their existence you’ll just be getting started… you’ll be incoherent with rage when you find out how little they sell out for!
One of the most infuriating phrases you’ll hear is “I’m not a scientist, BUT…” This usually precedes some appallingly ill-informed dismissal of a scientific opinion that only people who are scientists would be qualified to make. In a rational world, the only context in which we would ever hear this phrase would be “I’m not a scientist, BUT… here’s someone who is a scientist so I’ll shut up while they talk.” Unfortunately, it seems we don’t live in a rational world.
Since global society is built on science and billions would die if that carpet was pulled from under our feet, it’s probably a good thing that the US House of Representatives has a permanent committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Who should be in a group tasked with such monumentally important oversight? Apparently, people who don’t understand science and think it should be sh
oehorned into an ideological mold instead of the other way around. When the new Congress starts in 2015 they’ll be bringing back the same fine folks who’ve formed the Science Committee for the last two years, but this time with the Congressional votes to give their flamboyant idiocy some teeth. To get your blood boiling this month we bring you a look at five of the people who decide how our national science budget is spent, their dismal understanding of the subject they’ll control, and their already appalling plans for what they’ll do. Get ready to get livid… and scared.
You don’t have to look further than a legislature for hubris, but for truly Texas-sized arrogance you have to go to Texas. The small Texas towns of Azle and Reno sit atop a geological formation called the Barnett Shale, ground zero for fracking in Texas. It’s ground zero for a swarm of earthquakes too; earthquakes that started right after fracking did. Since that could just be a coincidence, the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC, the agency in charge of oil and gas regulation in Texas) held a hearing to determine if drilling and fracking were contributing factors in the quakes. You may be relieved to know that they concluded there was NO LINK. Whew! But you’ll be less relieved to find out how they kicked aside the peer-reviewed study showing there WAS a link (by Texas scientists, no less), how they fixed testimony in the hearing, and how they bent themselves into pretzels to justify their reasoning.
Science does not promise truth, and it never has. Science gives the best possible explanation of reality, though that explanation is always subject to revision. On climate change, there is a scientific consensus that it is real, human-caused, and increasing. The consensus does not prove it is true. The consensus arose because the evidence supports it. Basic open-mindedness is necessary for the function of science, but reasonable skepticism doesn’t imply doubt about the thrust of a theory. But then there’s FOX News, Exxon, the Koch Brothers, and more who’ll be glad to tell you about the sliver of scientists who criticize climate change. Is this a case of lonely scientific voices being silenced by a bloated scientific orthodoxy?
No, they’re lying. We wanted to be a little open-minded, but it’s just that simple… they’re not wrong, they’re lying. They’re lying about one of the most critical issues possible, something that will affect humanity for centuries. They’re lying about issues that will leave people dead, starving, ill, homeless, and warring. They’re paying billions of dollars to put these lies out day after week after year. And they’re lying ONLY because they make money off the lies. Ready to get your blood boiling? Then settle in for this month’s News to Make You Furious…
Thomas Jefferson understood the importance of education to democracy- “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.” This idea of an educated citizenry was one of the pillars of our country, both for the ideals of freedom and for our free market economy. The idea that we could (or should) better our lives through education, that learning had real impact on our daily lives, was implicit. At one time people valued an informed vote, and felt some responsibility to learn about a subject before offering their opinion. But no longer. Now, education is held in suspicion. Stupidity is seen as a virtue, intellectualism as a hindrance. “We need a leader, not a reader” said Herman Cain as he proclaimed information unnecessary for making decisions. The Congressional Committee on Science and Technology is filled with congressmen who deny evolution, global warming, and other science basics. Sarah Palin is considering a run for Senate…