Dave Lambeth: Government without science is ship without rudder
Science is not political. Rather, it is the best process to discover truths about our world. Over the last 150 years, our government wisely established agencies and branches that acquire and summarize scientific knowledge and provide this to the executive and legislative branches so as to inform policy decisions.
During most of my 40-year career as a physician-scientist, this arrangement worked well. Both Republicans and Democrats respected science and took it into account in their deliberations. Sadly, over the past decade, especially the past 18 months, politicians have tried to marginalize science and discredit scientists.
Moreover, recent efforts subvert the scientific process itself and have purged the ranks of government agencies of those pesky truth tellers. Instead of using the best information available to shape its political agenda, our government now does the reverse, manufacturing alternative facts to fit their political agenda.
Alternative facts, of course, are not facts at all. This approach, if it goes on for long, will be disastrous for our country. Trump’s GOP has been largely responsible for the current war on science. The purging and silencing of EPA scientists by former head and climate change denier Scott Pruitt is one example and has contributed to flawed environmental policies.
Interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who believed in clean energy and water before joining the Trump Administration, opened public lands and coastal waterways to destructive drilling and mining. Instead of developing policies to meet future needs, the administration is trying to return us to the past.
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The list of wrong-headed policies — too long to summarize here — include U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate accord, sabotage of the solar and wind industries, and even refusal by the U.S. to advocate breast feeding. Such policies, uncoupled from scientific reality, have already hurt the U.S. standings with allies. In the long run, they will damage our economy, our workers, and the planet itself.
Why has Trump’s GOP turned against science? Does science provide inconvenient truths that might hurt the profit margins of their industry donors? The fossil fuel industry, baby formula industry, pharmaceutical industry and many others funnel big money into the coffers of politicians, not out of patriotism, but because they expect something in return.
Rep. Scott Tipton received only 4 percent of his funds from small individual donations, while his largest donors include fossil fuel giants Koch Brothers and Exxon-Mobil. Sen. Corey Gardner’s biggest contributors also include the oil and gas industry. Can we expect that these industry-sponsored politicians will pay heed to scientific facts when alternative facts are required by their handlers?
While science is not partisan, ignoring science is foolish. Science provides a rudder, without which the ship of state is headed for the rocks.
Dave Lambeth, MD, PhD
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