Mad scientists

Urgh. What a weird couple of weeks it’s been guys. I know I said that I’d be more consistent with posting things here and try not to get all disgruntled and political. I know that’s what I said. I’m trying to let that stuff roll off my back, trying to avoid staying agro all the time. Bad for your health, you know? And none of this looks like it’s going to let up anytime soon. I’m overwhelmed, honestly. Just completely overwhelmed.

But I do want to take a quick moment to give props to a few folks who did a cool thing a couple of days ago. Our new President has had all the resources and information regarding climate change taken down from the government’s web sites. Now, to be fair, that could be just changeover procedures. It’s hard to gauge what’s normal and what’s nefarious for an incoming administration when only the last two have had websites, I suppose. I understand wanting to update the stuff for the new guy in the chair, and I understand that putting in new leadership at lots of agencies means it will take a minute to get everyone on the same page. Whether or not that page is an evil one will depend more on the policies they put in place. We’ll find out soon enough. Like, suuuuuuper soon.

Still, when the EPA and the HHS and a bunch of other departments were told to A) remove any mention of climate change from their websites/social media and B) that they had to stop publishing their scientific findings as well as communicating with both the public and the press without prior approval from the administration, they flat refused. Because a media blackout on science is the first step on a slippery slope to a total media blackout and the science community ain’t having it. It started with one person on the Badlands National Park Twitter feed posting stats about carbon emissions and global temperatures from 2016. That sounds super boring (if absolutely terrifying), and I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it if they weren’t then shut down by the White House for doing it. And sure, the White House can shut down official accounts that are representing government offices, obviously that’s within their rights because somebody might be giving out government secrets (or the Press Secretary might accidentally tweet his passwords two days in a row – true story). So, several agencies (the EPA, NASA, CDC, USDA, and Forest Service, among others) have started unofficial feeds and are continuing to pump out scientific info on their own time. Those can’t get shut down. They’re not doing anything wrong and they’re not doing anything in the government’s name.

I’m fascinated by this whole thing. Not just because I’m enthusiastically Team Science, but because this forum didn’t even exist ten years ago. The fact that it’s not some terrified scientist delivering his paper to a sketchy reporter Deep Throat style in the dead of night, but instead professors and park rangers and researchers and astronauts and tons of folks coming together to deliver information directly to eyeballs is pretty fucking rad. Even if it’s just their jobs and they would have been doing it anyway. Even if it didn’t start as an act of protest. Come on, man, it’s like we live in the future!

On the other hand, I’m pretty bummed out about this whole culture of fighting against science. “Prove it!” is not an argument that you throw in a scientist’s face. That’s actually their whole job and they love it. It makes me sad that any argument about what the words “fact” and “falsehood” mean should even be a thing, especially coming from a representative of the President. Double plus especially live on national news. And that conversation wasn’t even about science. I hope we all realize that this is just an extension of the manufactured prejudice against “the liberal elite,” this shitting on educated people and dismissing their work out of hand. This isn’t about science at all, it’s about scientists, about breeding classist mistrust, and about devaluing education and research in political discourse so that fewer people think it’s important in their everyday lives.

As I’ve said before, this comes down to poor argumentation. Whether you think that humans have caused global warming or that this is all a natural process, you absolutely can’t deny that we’ve had an impact on the health of our planet. Sure, the atmosphere might have warmed eventually on its own, but it wouldn’t have done it by indiscriminately burning tons of fossil fuels for hundreds of years. There’s trash in the oceans and unbreathable crap in the air and oil spills all over the place and toxic waste buried in the desert. Nature wouldn’t have done that. And nobody’s making that shit up. To argue over whether legislation about climate change is bad for businesses or governments or whatever is to turn a blind eye to those actual, provable, man-made messes and mistakes for the sake of money. And frankly, if it means that you don’t get to spew filth into our air and water, then I support those restrictions and I don’t give a damn about your bottom line. As The Husband says anytime this subject comes up: “It’s arrogant as hell to fart in an elevator and then blame the elevator.”

And while we’re here, let’s take a second to talk about economists and statisticians along with the scientists. I think our political discourse has become far too reliant on dueling statistics, pitting studies with different outcomes against each other. But you can’t say “a study proves these numbers, therefore my plan for policy X will work,” and then turn around and shit on the people who do your math in the next breath. Again, we absolutely need scientists and mathematicians and all the rest for things to work. Anything. All the things. You need engineers to build bombs and walls as much as you need chemists to make safe and effective birth control. Science doesn’t have a political party. Science just is. (But since I brought up statistics and birth control in the same paragraph – you do realize that defunding Planned Parenthood would increase abortion, not decrease it, right? Because they’re the ones giving the most contraceptives to low income men and women specifically to prevent pregnancy? That’s their whole jam. And we already have a working mechanism in place that stops public funding from being used for most abortions. Look it up. This is a bad plan.)

A couple of other loose ends to tie up while we’re talking about science:

-“Theory” with a capital T, as in Theory of Evolution, is not the same as the noun “theory,” as in an idea. It just means we haven’t figured out all the math yet (see also: “proof” vs “Proof”). It’s the Theory of Gravity, too, kiddos. Doesn’t mean some dude just made up a crazy thing.

-Scientists can get stuff wrong, but that’s still usable data. If they get something wrong, they build on it, they do better the next time. In science, as in life, failure is the greatest opportunity to learn something you didn’t even know you needed to know, you know? Which doesn’t mean all science starts out wrong. I feel like these political types discuss scientific data with a real “guilty until proven innocent” attitude and it’s making us get in our own way.

-There are a lot of stats out there about how clean energy costs more, especially being thrown around by big petroleum folks. Those stats are true, but only because we don’t have existing infrastructure for those kinds of power. Yes, we would have to pay through the nose for the initial systems to be put in place, obviously. But it would come out in the wash in the long run and we’d all be better off for it. Again, using current statistics to discredit future initiatives can just be bad argumentation. (To that same point, though, your rechargeable electric car basically runs off coal. Think it through.)

Anyway. I’m just baffled. This anti-intellectual sentiment is simply beyond me. Especially now, in the Information Age, the Age of the Geek, why is that tactic so effective? I’d like to think that telling people they’re dumb would piss them off, not make them say “Yeah! Fuck smart people! They’re not like us!” What even is that? I’m so confused. This all feels like a weird dream I’m having. Somebody wake me up.

One thought on “Mad scientists

  1. I thought “geek culture” was totally in and then I hear people putting down Obama for being an “intellectual” and praising Trump for being “salt of the earth” whatever that means (and totally NOT how I would describe Trump with all his money and gold plated apartment). How is being an intellectual an INSULT? Like, being educated and articulate is the same as trying to manipulate and con you somehow??? I really don’t understand. I’m so glad that there has been a backlash, it’s just been so strange. I’m sure people enjoy their flat screen TVs, special effects, and smart phones. And you kind of need some educated people for all that tech, guys.

Comments are closed.