Readers Write: Inoculating against stupidity

The Island Now

The Oxford Dictionary says that science is “the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Carl Sagan puts it differently. “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

Lay people tend to view scientists as persons who reduce smog, engineer a moon landing, keep the bald eagle from extinction, keep our drinking water safe, invent airbags and give us all the technological wonders which have changed our lives.

Our federal government employs thousands of scientists who are dedicated public servants. They contribute significantly to our general welfare and for this we owe them a debt of gratitude. Almost all of the statements above have for decades been considered “conventional wisdom,” but now this is all being brought into question.

We have a president and many politicians who are science deniers.

This wouldn’t be a significant concern if we didn’t face catastrophic climate change. At this moment in time, we have 12 years to come up with a solution — it’s survival or suicide. The European Union has a plan to reduce carbon pollution to zero, but Trump and his allies oppose it.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is an organization consisting of scientists and lay people which defends science against the forces of ignorance.

The UCS maintains that climate deniers either lack knowledge or are malevolent. I believe it’s the latter. There is a long history of businesses whose bottom line is threatened by science. A few examples should suffice.

First, the Nestle company used aggressive marketing techniques to convince women in Third World countries that the Nestle formula was superior to breastfeeding. As a result, many babies died and a boycott in the 1970s against the international conglomerate proved successful.

Second, the tobacco industry refused to accept the fact that there was a link between cigarette smoking and cancer. The CEOs of the major manufacturers lied when they testified before Congress, and hired scientists to fabricate data, all in the name of “profits.”

Today, we have the billionaire Koch brothers who made their fortune in the fossil fuel business. They deny that global warming is a man-made problem in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

There is a fundamental truth in all of this, namely, that when science conflicts with corporate greed, the latter has the edge, at least initially. In a recent survey by the “Union of Concerned Scientists,” some 4,200 scientists responded pointing out three major problems: 1. Significant workforce reductions 2. Rampant political interference and 3. Censorship.

Number one occurs when staff is cut, there’s a hiring freeze, and staff who quit or are fired are not replaced. The Environmental Protection Agency is a good case in point. Staff levels are at a 20 year low and this suits Trump just fine.

Number two occurs when Trump appoints persons who have ties to the industries they are supposed to regulate. For example, Scott Pruitt, formerly head of the EPA, had been a strong critic of the agency he was in charge of.

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the government 14 times on regulatory issues.

Naming Pruitt EPA head was like asking the fox to guard the hen house. The third finding occurs when federal employees are told not to use words like “climate change” in project proposals. Scientists should not be censored when doing their job honestly.

President Trump has questioned our free press, assailed our judiciary, and challenged science. In all these endeavors, he undermines democracy and demonstrates ignorance of our history and institutions.

Dr. Hal Sobel

Great Neck












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