I’ve been saying this for YEARS, but Newsweek has finally featured an awesome article about the need for presidential candidates to talk about science! I had the opportunity to listen to Shawn Otto speak (also mentioned in this article) a few years back, and he really drove home the point that recent political debates and campaigns VERY RARELY discuss scientific issues. I think now, in 2016, politicians can no longer avoid this subject. Some highlights from the article:
any future president’s most vexing challenges, from Iran’s nukes to global warming, Internet security and women’s reproductive politics, are impossible to discuss without dealing with physics, math and biology
By far, the most contentious science issue of our time is climate change, pitting the global science establishment against the global—but far better-financed—energy industry. Almost every week, scientists reveal direr consequences of humanity’s carbon emissions, including July’s announcement from former NASA planetary scientist James Hansen and other leaders in the field that sea levels could rise 10 feet in 50 years, far exceeding previous estimates. Obama managed to get re-elected in 2012 without much talk of global warming. Safely into his second term, he now deems it of paramount concern, and in August unveiled an ambitious Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. “I’m convinced no challenge provides a greater threat to the future of the planet,” Obama said. “There is such a thing as being too late.”
On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders are acting now—by hauling in NASA scientists to explain why they are wasting taxpayer money on tracking rising Earth temperatures instead of flying to Mars (their observations found 2014 to be the hottest year on record). The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, tossed a snowball on the Senate floor to point out that the planet probably isn’t warming. Senator Ted Cruz, who chairs the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, has pushed NASA to stop monitoring earthly temps and prefers to talk about science fiction, most recently assuring The New York Times that Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was a Republican.
There are many reasons Americans now distrust science, and the most valid is that all scientific research has an element of uncertainty and is subject to repeated confirmation. Then there are other causes: an anti-science strain among religious fundamentalists, as well as contrarian pseudoscience, financed by vested interests, like those now aimed at climate change and previously the safety of cigarettes.
For laypeople, understanding any scientific issue—climate change, vaccinations, GMOs, cyberhacking and digital surveillance, to name a few—requires a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method and a level of trust that its results, when confirmed, are right.
The Pew survey found that on many issues, Americans don’t have that trust. Americans respect but don’t necessarily believe scientists, and that is true across the political spectrum. That distrust is at the heart of the call for a science debate. “Leading the national discussion requires some basic knowledge of what the important issues are, what is known and not known, and what new efforts need to be commenced,” says physicist Lawrence Krauss. “Scientific data is not Democratic or Republican.”
It’s a bit lengthy, but definitely worth the read. Read the entire article HERE.