Disrespecting Science


W.J. Astore

I grew up on science and the American space program.  My favorite character on “Star Trek” was Mr. Spock, the eminently logical Vulcan science officer.  I loved physics in high school and ended up majoring in mechanical engineering in college.  Later, I got advanced degrees in the history of science and technology, especially as these subjects relate to Christianity.

Suffice to say I have a deep respect and a fond affection for science.  That’s why it pains me to see the U.S. government taking positions against science, and specifically against global warming/climate change.

What disturbs me (among other things) is the denial of facts — the disparagement of science — by high officials in our government.  Denying global warming is like denying evidence of evolution.  People do the latter as a matter of faith — they take refuge in Creationism and Biblical literalism, partly because it’s easier, partly because they’re “true believers,” partly because they don’t trust experts, and partly because it’s flattering to their own self-image as being made in the image of God.  And there are certainly ministers within Christian sects who encourage their followers to reject science — it’s one way for these ministers to bolster their own authority.

The denial of the science of global warming is for some of the same reasons (it’s easier, lack of trust in experts) but largely due to capitalism and the desire for profit.  The ministers of capitalism are not about to cede authority to scientists, not on this issue at least.  There are trillions of dollars of fossil fuels still in the ground, and who wants to leave it there when there’s so much money to be made in extraction?  Damn the long-term costs to the environment and to vulnerable peoples worldwide — full speed ahead on short-term profits!

But as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, the global environment won’t be deterred by our denial of facts.  Environmental blowback is guaranteed — and will grow increasingly severe — as long as our government continues to ignore or downplay the high costs of burning fossil fuels.

In the aftermath of Sputnik and in the context of the Cold War, our government pushed science as a bulwark to democracy and freedom.  Now that same government is disrespecting science in the name of profitability and economic competitiveness.

As Mr. Spock might say, dissing science is not logical.  Nor will it end well for ourselves or our planet.

4 thoughts on “Disrespecting Science

  1. Just to prove how powerful the Theocracy has become here in the USA – Billy Graham- the prophet of fear lies in state in under the capitol rotunda (considering his wealth maybe I should say Profit of Fear). The politicians must offer mindless praise to ingratiate themselves with the evangelicals to prove their loyalty to bible thumping.

    Mean while as our Corporate McMega-Media continues on with it’s addiction to all things Russia.

    – Truly Wicked’: Trump EPA Dissolves Program That Studies Effects of Chemical Exposure on Children — Just one more example of why Trump is Agent Orange. —- The EPA Is Closing An Office That Helps Keep Arsenic Out Of Baby Food And Much More. The EPA will shutter the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), according a report by The Hill. One of the main functions of NCER was to hand out grants and fellowships to scientists investigating the effects of chemical exposure on human health. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2018/02/27/epa-ending-national-center-environmental-research-scott-pruitt-chemical-health/#69bef86b4328

    This is a despicable move. Since there will be no research or investigation of any and all harmful effects of chemical poisoning. Protection of human health from the depredations of corporate AmeriKa is an onerous regulation that inhibits profits and such must be eliminated. If some people in Flint, Michigan have to suffer to protect profits, well it is just collateral damage.

    As a Boomer, the change after Sputnik was launched and in particular after Gagarin circled the earth, heralded an explosion of Science in all directions. Somehow Science has lost ground (Satire except if it is an expansion in cell phone games), I suspect once Science began to clash with corporate profits and theocracy it was fair game to be attacked.

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  2. My favorite quote on the subject of scientific inquiry:

    “The application of Scientific Method is universal. Despite the attempts by certain scientists to represent it as something exclusive and mysterious, there is nothing too lowly, repulsive, obscure, contentious, or deceptive to come within its scope. Neither is there anything too ‘sacred,’ which generally means a fear that the things so denominated cannot bear investigation. Scientific Method is the only genuine method of knowing, and will tackle anything knowable. It despises no problem and prejudges no question. It is willing to begin operations on any material it can get, however insecure, dubious, or dull, and to pry into lingering pseudo-sciences like astrology, heraldry, and Formal Logic as zealously as into the most flourishing and progressive sciences. For it has confidence enough in itself to shrink from nothing, and to be capable of learning from anything.” — F. C. S. Schiller, Logic for Use: an Introduction to the Voluntarist Theory of Knowledge (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1930)

    I especially like that definition of the word “sacred: … a fear that the things so denominated cannot bear investigation.” Perfect.


  3. Sadly, too many people are using science as a means of pushing political agendas. The left is just as guilty of this as the right. As a result of the conflicting conclusions, most of which are taken out of context of the original study, those in power have decided to ignore science entirely. The right makes the claim that they are “of the faith,” and that their direction comes from their gods, not scientific investigation and expert opinion. Meanwhile, the left, mired in postmodernism, decries science as “a product of western modernity” to be dismissed as a relic of the past. I thank Mike for pointing out the lack of “sacred truths” within science, because said “truths” are central to politics. Meanwhile, the scientists themselves are left without a voice, save for the ones who taint scientific reputation by fabricating research for the purpose of pushing one policy or another, raking in titloads of cash and gaining a reputation of lying sleazeballs for both themselves and the scientific community at large. This is a very small minority of scientists, and such reprehenisble individuals are usually ousted and/or shamed by academia. However, they are tools of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex. Science is useful to the MICC only when it helps the lumbering giant to expand its own belt-line.


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