I know that everyone has their “thing.” For some people, it’s mountain biking. For others, it’s crafting. For others still, it’s obsessively cleaning out their fridge. However, there are some things that you should at least be a little curious about, especially if you have the kind of national power that Congress has. One of those things is science. The GOP has proven time and again that they lack this curiosity, and that should make you angry.
The latest display of proud ignorance came at a recent hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where White House science adviser John Holdron was the only witness. You’d think that, because this committee has the words “science,” “space” and “technology” in it that the people on the committee would have a passing interest in science, space or technology. Ha! You must be new here. Instead we got glimpse of a terrifying hellscape where reason and logic go to die.
The hearing was ostensibly to review the White House’s budget requests for science agencies, but it turned into a condescending game of who can miss the point by the most. There were a lot of players and the competition was stiff.
You can read some of the highlights here, and I suggest you do. What some Republican representatives say must be seen to be believed. They time and again prove that they don’t understand the scientific method or how research works. But that’s not what makes their statements so bad. We all have areas that we don’t understand as well as we might like. They’re really leaning into their own ignorance of these issues. Rather than try to better understand what Holdron is saying, they make flip statements. This type of attitude is absolutely unacceptable.
It’s 2014. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but science and technology run our lives. My entire livelihood requires the Internet, something that only barely existed when I was born, developed by scientists and engineers and in part with funding from the National Science Foundation. Your GPS only works because a German physicist figured out that space and time are not only one thing, but also curved. Vaccines keep kids from dying of diseases that only a few generations ago were considered deadly. Diseases which are making a comeback thanks to the misunderstanding of medical science that leads people to believe that vaccines will always do more harm than good.
Scientific research and discovery has unquestionably done humankind a lot of good. And it continues to do so in the face of stiff opposition. Climate science is screaming a warning at us, telling us that we are headed for a disaster like humanity has never seen before. But instead of listening to this tool that humans have used for hundreds if not thousands of years, we bury our heads in the sand. Instead of trying to understand what science is about and how we know what we know, we elect people who mock it in a public hearing.
Why aren’t we collectively more angry about this? Why aren’t you, specifically, more angry about this? You — yes, you — will feel the effects as we raise a new generation of kids who don’t understand basic biology because their school thought teaching evolution was too controversial. You will feel the effects as basic research goes unfunded. You will feel the effects of a warming climate that goes unmitigated.
I, for one, am tired of this. I’m tired of putting unserious people in charge of serious problems. This is not a jocks v. nerds situation. We’ve reached the point where we need curious problem-solvers who know when they are outside their areas of expertise and when to call in the big guns for advice.
There is a great Rosalind Franklin quote that I think is especially relevant in the 21st century:
You look at science (or at least talk of it) as some sort of demoralising invention of man, something apart from real life, and which must be cautiously guarded and kept separate from everyday existence. But science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment.
Science is for everybody. The products of science are for everybody. It explains where we come from and helps us into the future. As long as our leaders — and, by extension, us — continue to value ignorance over curiosity, the future is dim.
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