By STEVE ERICKSON
A strange malady is infecting politicians all over the world. Not all, mind you. But enough so that fact-based decision-making has become very out-of-fashion for a frightening number of our elected “leaders.” I use the word “leaders” here advisedly, because marching backwards at a brisk pace towards a cliff is not leading. It is going backwards from the scientific method that gave us the knowledge making it possible for 7-plus billion humans to live on this planet and that may make it possible for that to continue.
Do we really want to go back to when the scientific method — observe, record, analyze, predict, repeat this process, repeat again — was considered heresy? The scientific method has not always produced conclusions that stood up to repeated testing …and that is its beauty. It is self-correcting. The results may not always be what we’d like, but it beats anything else humans have come up with to explain the way things are, whether its how fast an apple falls from a tower or the way matter and energy transform, flow, ebb, and coagulate through the universe.
Sometimes a brilliant theory may explain what we see, but not explain how. Darwin and Wallace posited evolution by natural selection, but it was the monk Gregor Mendel who later worked out the basics of heredity simply by observing, recording and analyzing the color of pea flowers over multiple generations. And it wasn’t until Watson, Crick, and Franklin that DNA was added to the picture. From the theory of evolution to the revelation of DNA’s beautiful double-helix took about 90 years. You see, science builds on what has gone before, even if that means discarding explanations that no longer make sense in light of new information.
Sometimes science is denied because its implications are harmful to powerful wallets, like the science about human caused climate change. Sometimes it seems like politicians are simply reverting to when they were 5 years old and believed that if they don’t see, speak, or hear something it doesn’t exist, like the impacts of military jet noise on over 10,000 people on central Whidbey. It is not just here. Science denial has grown throughout the world, with conservative capitalists finding common cause in fact denial with middle eastern religious fanatics. Denying reality knows no borders.
But we now face so many seemingly intractable problems that we simply can’t afford to close our eyes, ears and minds to the reality and problems that science has done such a good job of explaining and finding solutions for. And make no mistake: we are threatened in the most basic sense of that word by those in power who insist that ignorance is bliss. We need and depend on science, whether it’s fact-based education on human reproduction and evolution, the dire threat of human-caused climate change, or the health impacts of low flying jet noise.
It seems weird to have to defend science, but that is what we need to do now. So on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22 there will be 514 rallies and marches around the world for science, including on Whidbey Island. Rally in Coupeville at Lion’s Park, two blocks east of the County Courthouse complex. Everyone’s invited. We’ll start at 11 a.m. and have music and speakers. Let’s give it up for science because facts matter.
Editor’s note: Steve Erickson is the litigation coordinator for the Whidbey Environmental Action Network.