Facts matter. Objective reality is too precious to waste. Personal opinions need to be based on impersonal knowledge of how the world really is.
I hold those truths to be self-evident.
So did my deeply conservative mother, an avid Republican who also was a big lover of science. I was raised reading both National Review and Scientific American. My mother was as thrilled with discoveries in particle physics and genetics as she was when Ronald Reagan became governor of California (where I grew up).
That was then, when "conservative" and "science-loving" were totally compatible words. Today, the editors of Scientific American felt the need to write an editorial called Donald Trump's Lack of Respect for Science is Alarming.
Four years ago in these pages, writer Shawn Otto warned our readers of the danger of a growing antiscience current in American politics. “By turning public opinion away from the antiauthoritarian principles of the nation's founders,” Otto wrote, “the new science denialism is creating an existential crisis like few the country has faced before.”
Otto wrote those words in the heat of a presidential election race that now seems quaint by comparison to the one the nation now finds itself in. As if to prove his point, one of the two major party candidates for the highest office in the land has repeatedly and resoundingly demonstrated a disregard, if not outright contempt, for science. Donald Trump also has shown an authoritarian tendency to base policy arguments on questionable assertions of fact and a cult of personality.
...When the major Republican candidate for president has tweeted that global warming is a Chinese plot, threatens to dismantle a climate agreement 20 years in the making and to eliminate an agency that enforces clean air and water regulations, and speaks passionately about a link between vaccines and autism that was utterly discredited years ago, we can only hope that there is nowhere to go but up.
Now, I readily admit that progressives also can run afoul of scientific reasoning.
But even though some of my fellow liberals have questionable opinions about the safety of GMOs or the value of getting a flu shot, their lack of scientific understanding pales before the many Republicans who doubt the reality of global warming, evolution, and Big Bang cosmology.
This incursion of science-denialism into mainstream politics is highly dangerous. It strikes at the heart of how our nation's founders viewed American democracy: as an Empire of Reason. I wrote about this in "Naturalism needs to rule public policy debates."
What is the common ground on which we all can stand during our debates and discussions about what is best for us?
What evidence and facts can be brought into attempts to reason our way to some sort of consensus on complex controversial issues?
The answer to both questions is Nature and Nature’s Laws. Everybody lives in the same natural world. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, walk on the same Earth, gaze into the same sky.
Yes, humans also hold a wide variety of ideas about what, if anything, might lie beyond the physicality of this universe.
But those hypothesized supernatural conceptions divide us, while the actuality of science, and the understanding that flows from reasoned consideration of what is known to be real — that unites us.
Such was the unparalleled vision of our nation’s founders.
It'd be nice if anti-science Trumpism was limited to the national political stage. Unfortunately, it also manifests right here in Salem -- though usually not as obviously, given the desire of Oregon conservative politicians to disguise their skepticism about science in this left-leaning state.
I've asked Salem's Mayor, city councilors, and other leaders in this town to reveal how they view global warming. Disturbingly, mostly only liberals responded. Almost all of the conservatives and corporate/Chamber of Commerce folks hid behind a No Response.
In the blog post where I shared the results, I said:
Almost certainly, some of the non-respondents are global warming deniers in one form or another. However, I suspect they're reluctant to admit this in a state and city where most citizens are strong defenders of protecting the environment. And there is no bigger threat to the habitability of our one and only Earth than global warming.
So we here in Salem are fortunate to not have a blatant science-denier like Donald Trump in control of City government. But almost certainly we've got closeted anti-science types in charge of City Hall.
Temporarily. In May 2018 Salem will have a chance to elect a new Mayor and four city councilors. Hopefully this will bring some fresh science-loving people into power.