Take your politics out of my science

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Until a few months ago, most of you had never heard of me unless you were regular readers of the big daily paper in Raleigh. You probably don’t know that I have been against making climate science a political issue for years.

I can understand why some think public policy is necessary for the purpose of cleaning up the environment, but I am a free market believer. When green technology is affordable and widely available, we can educate the public about it’s benefits, and it will eventually become more widely used. For a real-life example, see solar energy.

I can also accept the argument that rules and laws can be used to force development of such technology. Although, I think engineers focused on environmental concerns would develop it anyway because it is the right thing to do.

The problem I have with politicizing science of any kind, but especially climate, is that the public policy pendulum can swing two ways. In one direction, the scientists have free reign and the ever-ready ear of top officials. In the other direction, the scientists lose credibility and the hope of advancing knowledge in the way in which they are accustomed.  For decades, the pendulum was on the upswing, helping the growth of the Environmental Protection Agency because the people in high office didn’t question the actions of the agency. While its actions are for the betterment of the environment, and I have no doubt nearly everyone working within the EPA believe in its cause, some would say it did so to the detriment of businesses.

So now we have a pro-business president, looking at a political* entity and saying it’s too big and makes economic progress too difficult for certain industries. Now the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction, and the EPA is reportedly on media lock-down. Do I agree with the actions of the president as they are being reported in news and social media? No. I have friends at the EPA who are concerned for their science and, as importantly, their livelihoods. I would not wish that feeling on anyone.

That being said, I can see how we got here, and making climate change a political issue is a big part of it.

global temp map

Global temperature anomalies averaged from 2012 through 2016 in degrees Celsius. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. Data provided by Robert B. Schmunk (NASA/GSFC GISS).

The earth is warming. The climate is changing. Let me just get those statements out of the way before anyone lumps me into the category of “climate denier” because it’s easier to stereotype than it is to read someone’s thoughts open-mindedly.

However, there are still legitimate scientists with higher degrees, peer-reviewed research, and all sorts of credentials out there, who still aren’t 100% convinced that carbon dioxide is the only cause. It may be a big contributor, or a small contributor, but it may not be the only cause.

Should we clean up the air? Yes. Should we reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Sure. Should we take care of the environment so that we leave something nice and clean for future generations? Of course! But to say that all scientists agree that CO2 is the culprit and that public policy – not just nationally, but globally – should focus only on that is a very narrow-minded point of view, as well as untrue.

My guess is that President Trump has realized that the popular claim of total agreement among scientists is untrue and decided that the lie needs to stop. My guess (since I haven’t talked to him myself) is that he is stereotyping in the other direction, thinking that if you’re not a climate denier, you’re a liar. There’s very little gray area allowed when something gets politicized in such a polarizing way as climate change has over the last few decades, and that is the reason I have always said that we should take politics out of science.**

Honest scientists who are searching for the truth behind the symptoms of climate change are being shut down. The first who were silenced were the ones who questioned the popular theories. The last are those who hold to the popular theories. No true scientist should ever be silenced because of unpopular ideas. If they stick to the scientific method and find differing results, those results should be reviewed and there should be attempts at replication, not blind acceptance.

Science is not a popularity contest. Politics is.


*Political here is defined as “of or relating to the state, government, the body politic, public administration, policy-making, etc .”
**One definition of science is the systematic study of the nature and behavior of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.