Friday, February 24, 2017
Oh no! The politicization of science!
Nothing frosts my pumpkin like these doofi (doofuses? I always have trouble with the Latin plurals) who decry the Scientists' March on Washington because it will "politicize science." Purportedly science needs to remain aloof from politics lest scientists be accused of partisanship and lose the trust of the public.
Wow folks, you are growing with your heads in the ground and talking out of your nether orifices. Science has already been "politicized" and accused of partisanship. EPA scientists are forbidden to release any studies or data to the public without review by political appointees. The CDC abruptly cancelled a long-planned conference on climate change. Cabinet appointees in general deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change, as does the "president." The administration wants the FDA to approve drugs that don't actually work, while the "president" believes that vaccines cause autism. We could go on with this but you get the idea.
It is true that scientists make a claim of epistemological preeminence. We are committed to using a particular toolkit to discover truth. We -- or at least most of us -- agree that there are what Habermas calls different classes of "criticizable validity claims," and that science concerns only one of them. Harking back to Plato, Habermas calls these the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. You can decide for yourself what you think is right or wrong, and what gives you pleasure. But the Truth is out there, to be discovered. It is what it is whether you like it or not. And yes, scientists, through long training and disciplined application, develop expertise that most people -- including most other scientists -- do not have to make truth claims about specific questions.
This doesn't mean we think we're better than you. If you are a skilled plumber, auto mechanic, carpenter or bassoon player, scientists will pay you to do what they cannot. Auto mechanics don't think that chemists or climatologists know as much about automobile repair as they do, but scientists don't resent them for that.
It is a basic value of science to try to keep an open mind and to be extremely reluctant to call conclusions absolutely definitive and not subject to legitimate question. But as evidence builds for theories, and they integrate seamlessly with broader theories, as multiple lines of evidence converge, some conclusions become unworthy of question. Vaccines do not cause autism. Humans burning fossil fuels add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere which is causing the climate to change with unprecedented rapidity. Particulate matter from motor vehicle exhaust and coal-fired power plants, among other sources, causes serious adverse health consequences. And so on. These are truths. Denying them is political; asserting them is science.
What we are asking is that you base your policies on the truth, in light of your values and preferences. If you believe that it is right and beautiful to destroy civilization in order to further enrich the Koch brothers, then by all means say so. But don't lie and say it isn't happening.
That's what the march is about.