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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/16/18

Science skepticism runs amok

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Message Seymour Patterson

Science skeptics brag about their disdain for facts and evidence. However, we accept the earth is a sphere--Kyrie Irving comments aside. The sun--a main sequence star--is 93 million miles away. It is a nuclear process that converts 700 million tons of hydrogen into 695 million tons of helium every second. Moreover, the sun has a surface temperature of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Earth is located just the right distance from the sun where it is neither too hot nor too cold. If it were closer like Mercury and Venus the oceans would boil away; if it were farther like Mars it would be too cold. Heat from the sun's core takes one million years to travel its surface, but sun rays take only eight minutes, twenty seconds from the sun to the earth. The moon, which a quarter of a million miles away, shepards the earth in its orbit around the sun, preventing it from wobbling unpredictably.

We trust scientists to give us answers to the mysteries of the cosmos. They tell us that nothing can exceed the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), except perhaps gravity and space itself. Light can travel around the earth seven times in one second. To accelerate a particle to light speed would require unimaginable amounts of energy because the faster matter moves the heavier it gets: E=MC2 matter and energy are the manifestations of the same thing.

The knowledge of the cosmos scientists share with us could not be tested or confirmed by most of us. We would have no idea how to measure the speed of light. Most of us don't know how to measure the diameter of the earth (27,000 miles), of the sun (864,938 miles), or of Betelgeuse (600 million miles); or the distance of Proxima Centauri (4.22 light years from earth); or the Milky Way, which has a diameter of 100,000 light years and contains about 400 billion stars. The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. We cannot prove any of these things ourselves, but we believe the people whose business it is to know.

Some Americans are embarked on a science-skepticism crusade as reflected in the attitudes of the leadership at EPA on our stewardship of the planet; and the decision to open more of pristine Alaskan acreage to drilling. Pulling out of the Paris Climate accord cements doubts about humans' influence of climate change. More offshore drilling is being allowed by the federal government with some states resisting. In addition, stripping the science-related references from government texts exemplify the consolidated effort to render scientific thinking redundant.

Overwhelmingly, climate scientists believe humans are partly responsible for global warming--the melting glacial ice caps, more frequent and violent storms, and record heat waves. Approximately, 97 percent of 10,302 scientists believe we are contributing to climate change. (See UCSUSA.) However, there are official skeptics who ignore what these studies conclude and stand ready to frustrate efforts to deal with climate issues. (See Hufflington Post.) The EPA has "adopted a 'red team/blue team' model designed to challenge climate-change assumptions that global warming is occurring and humans are the primary cause -- a view endorsed both by the vast majority of scientists and by a massive federal report the White House issued earlier this month."

The environmental disasters of Exxon Valdez and BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill aside, the government will allow "new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard." (Ref. NYTimes.) This approach to energy self-sufficiency ignores the environmental impact, including the climatic, of drilling for oil. Renewable energy such as solar might be more environmentally friendly in the long term.

Another very questionable tactic used to turn a collective blind eye to science is the government's effort to extirpate references to science and its findings from its lexicon. This is a place--in the pages of official government documents--where the intersection of science and politics imperil science and the consumers of government information. It appears that the goal is as Vox puts it to: "Some of these changes in language are top-down, and they're meant to shake up priorities, rebrand old ideas, or obfuscate truths. But other moves are happening from the bottom up, as people working inside scientific agencies try to protect their programs from funding cuts and from their new ideological leaders." In addition, terms such as science-based and evidence-based are shunned.

Even in the soft sciences such as economics, our government fails to appreciate the global benefits of trade--but sees trade as a zero-sum game, where the U.S.A. has been disadvantaged by trade treaties such as NAFTA and the TPP. We want to renegotiate the former and pull out of the latter. Beyond that, tariff on our trade partners without distinction say between China and Canada, ignore the effects of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (1930), and has the potential to harm the world economy by restricting trade. History has a propensity to repeat itself: Smoot-Hawley raised tariffs, signal U.S.A. isolationism, and invited retaliation from the rest of the world. Retaliation is precisely what the EU is promising in response to U.S.A. tariffs on trade.

Whether hard or soft, science based on evidence points the way to policy with domestic and global repercussions. The hard science tells us that human beings contribute to global warming. The soft science tells us that free trade is superior to restricted trade. Both impact say something about our wellbeing. Policymakers ignore them largely for political reasons. There is consensus around the superiority of free trade to protectionism--all the participants are better off. Runaway-greenhouse conditions on Earth could give us Venus. And in both cases profit-seeking is the dominant motivating force for misguided action.

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Seymour Patterson received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma in 1980. He has taught courses and done research in international economics and economic development. He has been the recipient of two Fulbright awards--the first in (more...)
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