The world needs scientists who won’t sell out - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

The world needs scientists who won’t sell out

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Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 3:00 am

How can a political party deny established science with one breath and complain our children are falling behind the rest of the world in science education with the next? That simply defies logic. But apparently, the fact- and logic-challenged Republican Party thinks it makes perfect sense.

“Anti-science.” That’s how Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman described his party. “The minute the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party,” he said, “we have a huge problem.” He’s concerned Republicans are on “the wrong side of science” when they deny our role in climate change and the existence of evolution.

Huntsman says climate change deniers are rejecting the conclusions of 98 out of 100 climate scientists. He’s right, of course: 98 percent of scientists in the field acknowledge climate change is real, manmade and changing our planet for the worse.

The remaining, very noisy two percent are mostly employed by energy corporations that stand to lose billions if we pursue necessary corrective measures, like conservation and renewable energy.

The “findings” of these two-percenters carry as much scientific weight as Exxon-Mobil’s TV commercials. And yet, most Republican politicians side with the climate change deniers.

The same politicians refuse to accept evolution, or the fact that the Earth is billions of years old. Rick Perry was questioned on the subject by a young boy at a recent campaign stop, and the best he could do was smile, shrug, and mumble that evolution is “a theory that’s out there” and the world is “pretty old.”

I guess I have to give Perry some credit for stopping short of our own Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen, who said on the Senate floor, “This earth’s been here 6,000 years.”

Huntsman didn’t connect his party’s penchant for science denial with the education of our children, but as an educator, I see a serious problem if Republicans' anti-science attitude takes hold in our schools.

Attacking public schools is among their favorite talking points. They never tire of warning us other countries are creating better educated scientists who will leave our high school and college grads in the dust. Yet their favorite “science lesson” on the stump is, if you don’t like a fact-based scientific conclusion, just stick your fingers in your ears and say, “La la la, can’t hear you!”

All good scientists are skeptics and doubters who subject other scientists’ conclusions to close scrutiny, but they don’t simply discard what they don’t like. They put others’ findings to the test by employing the scientific method, then presenting their own findings to their peers for further scrutiny.

That’s how they push our knowledge, understanding and technology to the next level. Faith and belief, as valuable as they may be in many facets of our lives, don’t lead to the next big computer breakthrough or help us create and utilize energy in ways that won’t harm the planet. The next time you board an airplane, you should be thankful the Wright Brothers and those who followed them in the aviation field preferred applied science to the pronouncements of “airplane deniers” who maintained, “If God had wanted us to fly, He would have given us wings.”

If today’s school children are to be tomorrow’s scientists and technological innovators, they need to learn scientists don’t dismiss findings they don’t like with a wave of their hand. They acknowledge the gray areas and unresolved issues in their fields – and there are plenty of both in climate science and evolution – even as they recognize the validity of the core concepts.

I know some Republican politicians are dead serious, and dead wrong, in their denial of evolution and climate change. I sense others, though, don’t buy the anti-science dogma but have chosen to sell their souls to the highest bidders – i.e., the biggest donors  – to serve their political ambitions.

Either way, we’re in serious trouble when an entire party embraces junk science and uses it to pollute our national discussion.

Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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