You know the drill. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has been asked about something scientific and has said something ludicrous in response.
Shortly after announcing that he wants climate researchers to “debate” climate deniers on live TV, he gave a characteristically painful interview to a Texas radio show. Just after appearing to endorse peer-reviewed science, he added that “science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try and dictate policy in Washington DC.”
The idea that science should not dictate nor influence policy is insane. It really doesn’t need to be said that science is one of the key foundations of modern society.
JFK couldn’t have made his famous, rousing speech about heading to the Moon without the advice and expertise of scientific experts, just as lawmakers couldn’t have appropriated funds for the groundbreaking LIGO experiments that detected gravitational waves for the very first time.
Forget America – what about the world? Without science dictating policy, smallpox wouldn’t have been eradicated, hundreds of millions of children would not be alive, and we wouldn’t know that climate change was an existential threat to life on Earth.
Science, as has often been said, is true whether you believe in it or not. It is a constantly self-correcting, unbiased system, one through which our collective understanding of the cosmos advances with each discovery.
Politics is a method in which those with the most convincing argument win elections, regardless of how factual those arguments are.
These two systems are quite different, but in an ideal world, science is used to help the most powerful people on the planet understand what is true and what is not. Evidence is better than reading our future in tea leaves.
When people like Pruitt say that science should stay out of politics, it’s immediately clear that they have an ulterior motive other than concern about the dilution of one or the other. This type of phrase is wielded by those who are unhappy that science is pointing something out to them that they dislike.
Very few people looked up at the solar eclipse and thought that science was a junk field of academia. Plenty of those with vested interests do, however, consider climate science and vaccines to be incredibly suspect. The reason why is incredibly simple: Acceptance of an eclipse probably doesn’t lose this administration votes, but acceptance of climate science does.
So is it any surprise that the Trump administration is doing all it can to destroy the reputation of scientists and the scientific method at any opportunity? Of course not – but it doesn’t make it any less outrageous.