Friday morning--the day after returning from a three-day sailing adventure--an eight-hour drive to Washington, D.C., overnight with my sister-in-law's family in Falls Church, VA,* Metro to the National Mall, three hours of milling about and marching in the rain (water trickling down my sleeves as I hold my sign high) while swapping photo opportunities with other marchers, then drive back another eight hours in the night to make church the next morning. And why? Why drive sixteen hours in two days only to hang out in the rain with a bunch of scientists I don't know?
The gathering itself was unprecedented: thousands upon thousands of scientists leaving the work that motivates them to march and show--what? Solidarity? That scientific knowledge is REAL? That science MATTERS in the world? That science is the only reasonable foundation for public policy?
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THESE THINGS ARE NOT BEYOND OBVIOUS?
For decades, Congress has had a complicated relationship with the facts. This has mainly been a problem of Republicans, perhaps because Republicans more commonly base their opinions on a conservative, traditional world-view that doesn't always take facts into account. ("Reality has a well-established liberal bias." --Stephen Colbert) Lately, anti-science bias has become a sort of tribal** position of the Republican Party, extending from the old bugaboo of the theory of evolution, to the more recent issue of climate change. (The climate change debate is further complicated by the consequences for our economy of dealing with climate change in a serious way: conservatives see the needed changes to our energy use and future as a threat, and sometimes even a liberal "conspiracy.")
Climate change cases in point. Two years ago Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) brought a snowball into the senate chamber as a visual aid to help explain that climate change isn't real. (If you don't believe me, search "senator snowball.") Only about a week ago, House Science and Technology chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) convened a hearing on climate change in which he hand-picked several climate scientists from the fringe three percent who doubt human-caused climate change, to debate a single climate scientist from the vast majority who don't. (Senator Smith's science expertise? he once took a physics class--it made him feel inadequate.) You may think Lamar Smith is an outlier, but remember that committee assignments are made by House leadership: presumably Lamar Smith remains as chair of that committee at House speaker Paul Ryan's pleasure. EPA head Scott Pruitt, having told the Senate confirmation committee that human-caused climate change needs further looking in to, quickly reverted after his confirmation to the position that human-caused climate change isn't real. (In this he took a page from president Trump, who insisted he would keep an open mind on the subject, but snapped it closed within days of his inauguration.)
Disregard for science--even reality itself--finds its most pathological expression in a president who, the day after his inauguration brought to bear all the influence he could muster to insist that his attendance had beaten Obama's; who insisted that his win in the electoral college had been unusually large despite readily available evidence to the contrary; who invented voter fraud on the scale of millions--denigrating the very foudations of our democracy--in order to justify his claim to have won the popular vote; who even now insists that the Russians did not interfere in the US election in direct and pointed opposition to the consensus of our own intelligence services. These are just a few of the more egregious examples.
Because of the way scientific investigation is structured and policed within the scientific community, scientific knowledge is the most reliable form of knowledge that exists. There simply is no other type of knowledge that is as rigorously tested, cross-checked and critiqued as science is. That does not make science perfect; it simply means that any other kind of knowledge is far less perfect.
Stopping for pizza for a hungry teenager allowed me to see more people
and signs than I otherwise would have.
*(Brunch the high-point of our visit: thank you niece Rachel and friend Bella!)
**A "tribe" holds a belief as part of its identity. Individuals hold that belief or risk being excluded from the group. (It's human nature; but it sure complicates the search for truth!)