Category Archives: war on science

We Marched!

Dateline: Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2017

We marched …

As the March for Science Chicago website proclaims, we marched

To bridge the distance between science and society
• To showcase Chicago as The Science City, and
• Toward an ethical science.

We marched for a more human science. We marched because we

Support the scientific community, and want to
• Safeguard the value and funding of the scientific process.

We marched to

Celebrate the role of science in society, and to
• Encourage scientific curiosity and exploration.

We Marched!

As with many things these days, the March for Science began on social media. Inspired by the January 21st Women’s March, a group on Reddit discussed doing a similar event to support science. The conversation quickly migrated to a Facebook page that jumped from 200 followers to 300,000 in less than a week. After all, the United States had just elected a climate change denier who was threatening to dismantle the EPA, cut back on scientific research, and who almost immediately purged from government websites the taxpayer funded research data on climate change, in effect stealing our tax dollars by denying us access to the data our dollars had secured. The day before the March, the March for Science Facebook page stood at 530,482, with tens of thousands of others following the March for Science pages connected to their own cities, both in the U.S. and around the world, 609 cities from Amsterdam to Zagreb, with 10 satellite marches in Illinois alone. (You can see the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) interactive map here.) By April 23, the number following the March for Science page stood at 567,865, over a 30,000 person increase in just a day. So marching does raise awareness and helps build a movement.

The Science March already has a Wikipedia page, and one section recounts the way in which previous American leaders have embraced science.

“Several Founding Fathers of the United States had an interest in science. Benjamin Franklin was a scientist with his foundational discoveries on electricity. Like Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and George Washington were all avid students of the natural and physical world.

A number of later presidents had interests in science and promoted pro-science policies; these include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama. A 2010 editorial in the scientific journal Nature warned of ‘a growing anti-science streak on the American right’ and argued that the rising trend threatened the country’s future, which ‘crucially depends on education, science and technology.’ Writing in the Scientific American, Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of The War On Science, wrote: ‘It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience.’” (Wikipedia)

Ironically, for a country that has been in the vanguard of scientific research for generations, a country that has been the research and development engine of the world for over 200 years, a country that has had more Nobel prize winners than any other country by far in chemistry, physics, economic sciences, physiology and medicine, 328 all told, we have slid badly in recent years, as our political leaders have increasingly taken oppositional stands to the findings of science, particularly in the area of climate change. There is no longer any guarantee that the findings of science will guide policy.

As a side note, quite a number of those Nobel award winning scientists were immigrants to the United States, drawn here by the research opportunities afforded at our stellar universities and by our government’s support for research, immigrants from China, the UK, India, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, and Italy, to name a few. But that was before “immigrant” became a dirty word in some quarters.

“According to organizers, the march is a non-partisan movement to celebrate science and the role it plays in everyday lives. The goals of the marches and rallies were to emphasize that science upholds the common good and to call for evidence-based policy in the public’s best interest. The march’s website states that an ‘American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.’” (Wikipedia)

And so we marched. In Chicago, we marchers had a beautiful sunny day Saturday. Over 40,000 of us streamed from Grant Park to the Museum Campus where Earth Day stands and activities were set up behind the Field Museum. We were students, and teachers, children and parents, nurses and scientists, young and old. One woman’s sign featured a picture of her as a child attending the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. And she is still fighting the good fight.

Still Marching 47 Years Later

Other signs proclaimed “Love Your Mother” over a picture of Planet Earth, and “There is no Planet B.” Some were blatantly political, playing on Donald Trump’s name and image or repurposing the Hillary Clinton slogan “I’m With Her” with an arrow to a picture of the Earth. Others focused on various reasons why science is important. It saves lives. It saves the air and water, which ultimately make our lives possible. Science people tend to be smart so many of the signs were clever and people were snapping pictures by the dozens, asking folks to hold their signs steady for immortality or Instagram. Most of the signs were handmade, and in the days leading up to the march, Facebook had photos of people gathered in families and church and community groups making those signs. So much for “paid protesters.” What was particularly heartening was to see young children, old enough to do science, proclaiming their love for it, and so many high school and college age students supporting scientific research and science-based policy. Peer review got a lot of shout-outs. “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” So did bees and beer, both of which depend on science, albeit in somewhat different ways.

Signs of Science

On the march, I met Alice Miller. She’s a 4th grade teacher at Sandridge Elementary in Lynwood, Illinois, which is not far from where I live. Small world. We talked about the fact that with the predominant emphasis on English and Math, very young children are not getting much time to engage in science during the primary grades, at the very age when they are bursting with curiosity about the world and are keen observers of it. What a waste! We exchanged contact information. I would love to visit her classroom. She’s a teacher who avidly seeks ways to provide her students with more opportunities in science.

But here’s my biggest takeaway from yesterday’s march, something that struck me in that sea of signs, among those thousands of marchers. In what kind of crazy upside down world, do tens of thousands of people across the planet rearrange their lives, some of them traveling a great distance to do so, because they feel they have to defend something as obviously good for humankind as science is? Think about that for a moment. It’s like thousands upon thousands of people marching to say “let’s keep motherhood a thing we humans do,” or “we support the sun.”

Little Scientists Marching for Their Future

On April 22, 2017, all across the Earth, from Amsterdam (3,000) to Zagreb (1,000), tens of thousands of  people marched. We marched because something critical to humanity’s survival is under attack. We marched to support the obvious, to defend the essential. We shouldn’t have to.

~ Penny

You can learn about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute here.

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Filed under March for Science, The War on Science, Uncategorized, war on science

Will You March for Science?

On Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, 2017, scientists across the United States will do something they don’t generally like to do. They will leave their labs, their field study sites, their university classrooms and travel to Washington D. C. or to other cities across the country, including Chicago, to get political. They will be marching for science.

There is even a March for Science website … leave it to the techies among them! And this is what they say about their cause:

“The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.”

march-for-science-announcement

If you want to get involved you can donate here, as well as find a local march near you. Actually, there are 228 sites across the United States and around the world where people will be marching, scientists and those who join them in valuing the freedom and findings of science and the importance of keeping those findings free of politicization. In Illinois, people will be marching in Chicago and in Champaign. In France, they will be marching in Lyon, Lille, Montpellier, Toulouse, and Paris. And Canada, our neighbor to the north, will have ten satellite marches in solidarity with the United States! Canadians will march in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Hamilton, Victoria, Halifax, Vancouver, Prince George, and St. John’s.

If you know Canada’s recent history of attacks on science research and evidence, you’ll understand Canadians’ fierce solidarity with scientists in the United States. With the election of Justin Trudeau to become Canada’s Prime Minister in 2015, the troubling administration of Stephen Harper (2006-2015) came to an end. Harper’s administration was infamous for issuing gag orders, muzzling scientists and preventing them from sharing their findings with the media and the public or with other scientists at conferences. Scientists had to get approval from the government before they could talk with the media, and they were assigned “minders” from the public relations department to manage those interviews. The bureaucratic red tape was onerous and media requests were often denied. Coverage of climate science, for example, dropped by 80% as a result. For an excellent NY Times op ed by Canadian scientist Wendy Palen, associate professor of biology at Simon Fraser University, please click here.

In summary, Stephen Harper is a climate change denier. His government closed research libraries and purged valuable, sometimes irreplaceable records, consigning them to the dumpster, calling that a cost-cutting measure. Harper also cut all funding “for the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-renowned research facility where scientists run experiments on pollution and environmental contaminants in more than 50 small lakes in northwestern Ontario. Other casualties included (Canada’s) northernmost Arctic monitoring station and national census.”

Sound familiar?

Scientists, who normally prefer to remain apolitical, became outraged and sprang into action when the Harper government passed legislation that eliminated or severely amended the “marquee environmental protection laws” that Canadians prized.

And then this happened:

“Fearing the continued erosion of even the most basic protections for food inspection, water quality and human health, Canadian scientists filled Ottawa’s streets in the Death of Evidence march. That theatrical mock funeral procession became something of a cultural touchstone. It was a turning point that galvanized public opinion against Prime Minister Harper’s anti-science agenda. “

Canadians Took to the Streets

Canadians Took to the Streets to Mourn the Death of Evidence

There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.

But one thing is certainly clear. U.S. scientists are taking a leaf (probably maple) from the Canadian playbook and planning a massive response to the Trump administration’s gag orders, cutbacks in science research funding, scrubbing of climate science data and other science research from government websites, appointment of cabinet members who are hostile to their work, and other constraints on their research, including preventing them from sharing their findings at conferences and with the media and the public.

Scientists and their supporters will be marching on April 22, 2017, and people from around the world will be joining them in solidarity.

Protecting Science Must Be a Priority (Photos: L, Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP; R, Phil Plait)

In solidarity, Golden Apple STEM Institute will be rescheduling our spring follow-up session from April 22nd to May 6th, because we have schools that will be participating in the Chicago march and some of our teacher participants are planning to march on their own. We will be joining them. STEM Institute coach and faculty member Wayne Wittenberg  and his family will be marching in D. C. Some of us will be marching in Chicago.

But there are ways for you to march other than literally going to Washington D. C. or to downtown Chicago on Earth Day.

Every time you create opportunities for your students to understand and appreciate the work of scientists, you are marching for science.

Every time you create a unit, with lessons and activities, to help your students understand that global climate change is largely caused by human activity, and that this is not opinion, not conjecture, but settled science, you are marching for science.

Every time you create after school opportunities for students to do more science and engineering, you are marching for science.

Every time you raise your voice to tell your principal and colleagues that students need more science time, that science must not be marginalized or wait until 4th grade, you are marching for science.

Every time you help a colleague who is struggling to teach science effectively and is not quite sure how to do it, you are marching for science.

Every time you support a science organization with your membership and your participation, from NSTA to the AAAS, from NRDC to the International Crane Foundationyou are marching for science.

Every time you write to your legislators or sign a petition to protect the work of scientists from those who wish to silence them and to demand evidence-based policies, you are marching for science.

But most importantly, every time you inspire your students to develop a passion for science and aspire to become STEM professionals, or at the very least, to become informed, science-positive citizens, you are marching for science.

Will you march for science?

Please leave us a comment to let us know how.

~ Penny

You can read more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under AAAS, International Crane Foundation, March for Science, NRDC, NSTA, science teaching, Uncategorized, war on science

TGISF … Happy Science Friday!

Earlier this year I reviewed The War on Science by Shaun Otto. While the author spends most of the book recounting how corporations, making common cause with religious groups and supported by a corporate media that has come to believe that being “fair and balanced” means giving equal weight to the settled science on such issues as anthropomorphic climate change and patently false opinions, Otto also reserves some of the blame for the public’s distance from science to the scientists themselves. Scientists, he contends, have not done a very good job of communicating with the public, both about the nature of their work and about their findings.

Enter Science Friday, as one means by which that dynamic is changing.

images-1On this last Friday of 2016 and just in case you haven’t stumbled on it yet, it seems particularly appropriate to spotlight this great resource for teachers, students, and the general public, and a vehicle by which scientists can share their work beyond academia. Science Friday airs every Friday on National Public Radio (NPR) from 2 P.M. – 4 P.M. Eastern Time, and you can also subscribe to podcasts or go to their website to listen to previous shows.

Science Friday, which boasts 1.7 million public radio listeners per week, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. For 25 years, Ira Flatow and the Science Friday staff “have been devoted to helping people understand the world around them, and to making learning fun for everyone.”

In 1991, Ira Flatow, a young journalist whose initial forays into science reporting were stories about the first Earth Day in 1970, brought the idea for Science Friday to NPR as “a weekly conversation with researchers who discuss their discoveries in depth.” The show broke new ground as the first talk show dedicated solely to science. Now, as then, Flatow interviews scientists, mathematicians, inventors, technology innovators, and other researchers, “giving them the time they need to explain their discoveries and inventions. Over the years, Ira has spoken with some of the most celebrated thinkers and doers in the world of science, including Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Sylvia Earle, Oliver Sacks, Richard Leakey, and many more.”

Ira Flatow, host of IPR's Science Friday, discusses communicating science in his keynote address.

Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s Science Friday, discusses communicating science in his keynote address for the 50th Anniversary of NIH Environmental Health Research, November 1, 2016.

Flattow has written three books that popularize topics in science and technology: Rainbows, Curveballs, and Other Wonders of the Natural World Explained, They All Laughed… From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives, and Present at the Future: From Evolution to Nanotechnology, Candid and Controversial Conversations on Science and Nature.

For a taste of Science Friday programming, give this conversation a listen — “How Much Math Should Everyone Know? (Show Your Work.)

I also love their science year in review and their science books of the year recommendations.

More recently, Science Friday has expanded to include opportunities and resources for participation and education. You can, for example, take a virtual field trip to explore the Columns of the Giants in California, complete with opportunities to collect evidence and apply your geological skills to other sites around the world.

And educators are offered free STEM activities and resources developed by the Science Friday Educator Collaborative, a group of six creative and highly accomplished teachers from around the country. “Starting in the spring of 2016, educators in the collaborative worked with one another and with Science Friday’s staff to create ready-to-use educational resources, all of which were inspired by the work of scientists and engineers featured in Science Friday media. The result is a collection of challenging and fun STEM resources for a variety of educational settings. And like all of the resources we share at Science Friday, they’re totally free and don’t require expensive materials to implement, so use as many as you’d like, and share them with your colleagues and friends.

Here are some of the ideas that these talented teachers developed:

  • Backpacking into the Columns of the Giants to create an immersive virtual field trip;
  • Drenching Colocasia plants to demonstrate hydrophobicity in nature;
  • Painting watercolors to bring climate change data to life;
  • Planting thermometers in a school parking lot to gather data on the urban heat island effect;
  • Building kites to visualize and demonstrate Newton’s Second Law; and,
  • Creating scale models of mud cores to simulate a timeline of tropical cyclones and hurricanes.

As you will see, each activity is unique. But they’re all designed to develop students’ critical thinking skills and encourage scientific exploration.”

Applications are now open, due Sunday, January 8, 2017, by 11:59 p.m. EST, for the 2017 Science Friday Educator Collaborative. You can learn more about that opportunity here.

Educators, you can sign up here to receive a monthly newsletter with free experiments and lesson ideas.

You might also be interested in the Science Friday weekly newsletter. It will let you stay up to date on all the fascinating science topics they’ll be covering on the program. You can sign up here to receive it.

In addition to being fascinating to listen to each week, Science Friday offers wonderful opportunities to build your science content knowledge in a fun way. They say, “We make science an ‘action’ verb.” But what I find particularly impressive is the fact that children as young as six can become addicted to the show. A mom recently tweeted “@scifri podcast is amazing. My 6 yo has binge listened to 4 hours of it. He loves it.” Why not introduce your students to Science Friday? Who knows, it just might inspire them to consider a STEM career. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

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Filed under Ira Flatow, mathematics, professional development, resources, Science Friday, scientist, Shawn Otto, teacher resources, Uncategorized, war on science

Blind Cavefish and You … Who Knew?

If you were a grown up in the years between 1975 and 1988, you might remember the famous (or infamous) Golden Fleece Award issued monthly by Senator William Proxmire (D – WI) to government funded projects and research that he deemed a waste of the taxpayers’ money. Rather than being the highly sought after prize bestowing authority and kingship of Greek mythology, Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece,” was associated with a fleecing of the public, a.k.a. a boondoggle. In all, Proxmire issued 168 of these “awards” before he retired in 1988. And various organizations and entities have carried forward on a similar vein since Proxmire vacated the scene.

To the average layperson, the Golden Fleece recipients’ projects looked like complete and utter wastes of time and money. We’ve all heard the refrain, sadly even from our Senators and Representatives, “I’m no scientist but …” Followed by something along the lines of “this makes no sense to me, seems utterly ridiculous, and therefore must be bogus.” The key phrase in this is “I’m no scientist,” because what follows is often something that may not make sense to laypeople but does make sense to other scientists. Nonscientists simply don’t have the background knowledge and training to know whether or not a line of research will generate useful and important knowledge. Sometimes the seemingly oddest lines of research do. Examples of that come later.

In fact, the same reasoning underlies climate change denial. Since it’s bitterly cold and snowing where I am (weather, a local phenomenon), the earth clearly can’t be warming (climate, a global phenomenon). Serious problems arise when the “common sense” opinion of a non-scientist is somehow equivalent in credibility to the consensus of multiply degreed climate and related sciences specialists. In what universe does that make sense?

A 2013 Washington Monthly article described Proxmire’s impact as follows:
“Proxmire doled out Golden Fleece awards to dozens of government agencies, including the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Mental Health, and NASA, often successfully stripping funding from their projects in the process. Scientists and their advocates were not amused, saying that Proxmire was presenting the intents of research projects unfairly to make them appear frivolous to a public predisposed to gobble it up, and that the award was a ploy for attention and political gain. While some of the projects he highlighted and stopped truly were stupid, the Golden Fleece Award did more harm than good: it halted legitimate research for political purposes, and worse, engendered widespread suspicion and hostility towards the notion of government spending on science, even when it represents only the tiniest portions of the overall budget.

It is the latter reason that makes those of us who want to love Proxmire for his litany of other accomplishments so uneasy, especially now that the mantle of equating scientific research with government waste has been taken up by the worst parts of the Republican Party, from cranky media obsessives like John McCain to anti-spending zealots like Tom Coburn. Bashing science in this manner became the cool new thing for the right—and it was a Wisconsin progressive who had made it cool!” 

And that brings me to the topic of this post – blind cavefish — and the research currently being done on them.

So there are these fish that live in caves and because there isn’t any light in those caves, the fish don’t need to see, and so they are blind and eyeless. They are also colorless. I mean, of what possible use could that research be?

Yet, scientists who study them have discovered some remarkable adaptations blind cavefish have made in response to their environment. For example, Science Daily reported that the research team led by Nicolas Rohner, Ph.D., of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, discovered that the species Astyanax mexicanus, a cavefish native to certain areas of Mexico, has “very high body fat levels, are very starvation resistant and have symptoms reminiscent of human diseases such as diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” yet, “the fish remain healthy and don’t have any obvious health problems like we see in humans. …While in humans this condition can lead to tissue scarring, inflammation, cell death, and eventually liver failure, the cavefish with fatty livers didn’t show any of these problems.”

The researchers also found that the cavefish exhibit very high blood glucose levels just after eating and very low levels when food isn’t available. These swings in blood glucose are similar to those experienced by people with untreated type 2 diabetes, though they appear to cause no negative effects in the cavefish. ’We think that like hibernating animals that acquire extra body fat in the fall to survive the winter, the cavefish become insulin resistant as part of their strategy to acquire high body fat levels,” said Rohner. ‘Similarly they likely use higher body fat levels to be more starvation resistant during periods when food isn’t available.’

The researchers identified a genetic mutation as the source of the cavefish’s insulin resistance. ‘It is not a regulatory or seasonal mechanism like in hibernating animals,’ said Rohner. ‘The cavefish are constantly insulin resistant, and that makes the argument even stronger that this is a strategy they are using to gain higher body fat levels. The fish must have also acquired compensatory mechanisms that allow them to stay healthy despite these high fat levels.’”

Scientists believe that further study of these fish might lead to cures for diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and obesity — all this from studying the genetic adaptations of an obscure species of fish.

When you consider that 30 million Americans have diabetes, probably including someone you know, and that $1 in every $3 Medicare dollars is spent on diabetes and $1 in every $5 of healthcare dollars is spent on diabetes, a total of $322 billion per year according to the American Diabetes Association, studying blind cavefish seems like a good investment, whatever the research dollars involved.

All of this makes me wonder if scientists, by simply pursuing their curiosity about the world, don’t often stumble on solutions to seemingly intractable problems that would remain unsolved if those research dollars dried up, withered away by the scorn of the “I’m not a scientist but” crew.

Cases in point, the Washington Monthly article cited above goes on to talk about the Golden Goose Award, created in 2012 by a coalition of various scientific and academic organizations at the urging of a bipartisan group of members of Congress, which intends “to celebrate scientists whose federally funded research seemed odd or obscure but turned out to have a significant, positive impact on society,” citing, for example, John Eng, a VA doctor, who received funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs to study Gila monster venom, which turned out to contain a hormone that is highly effective in treating diabetes, and Wallace Coulter who received funding from the Office of Naval Research and “invented a now-industry-standard way to count blood cells by studying how to improve paint used on Naval ships.” In the process, Coulter engendered “a technological boon with economic impact across major economic sectors like health and manufacturing,” giving American taxpayers ample return on their research investment.

Why is this important now?

We currently face a powerful impetus in America to mock science and defund major research agencies like NASA. It’s the popular thing to do, always good for a laugh. If we continue along these lines, however, the laugh will be on us. We will laugh ourselves straight out of contention as world class innovators and problem solvers in health, the environment, and other essential domains. And lives will be lost unnecessarily.

That is why, teachers, you are essential. You can activate the innate curiosity of your young learners from preschool on and guarantee that it won’t be extinguished before they get to university, where they will by then have the necessary background and interest to be eager and confident enough to pursue the advanced study necessary to find answers to the novel, mind-bending questions that lead to scientific breakthroughs, breakthroughs which ultimately benefit all of humankind. Keep science alive in your classroom to keep curiosity and scientific thinking alive in your students!

The first step toward both is to keep science alive in your own life, sparking your own sense of wonder at the diversity of life’s many solutions to the challenges of living on planet Earth.

To that end, you might enjoy this TED talk by ichthyologist Prosanta Chakrabarty on what we can learn from blind cavefish about the geology of the planet and the biology of how we see.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.

Several other articles not cited in this post might be of interest to you:

http://www.stowers.org/stowers-report/spring-2015/basic-research

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/10030/title/What-Proxmire-s-Golden-fleece-Did-For–And-To–Science/

 

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Filed under blind cavefish, science teaching, scientist, TED, Uncategorized, war on science

Read It While It’s Hot! The War on Science: A Review

“Science is the foundation of democracy. Science is inherently political. If authoritarians with vested interests who disagree with its findings are allowed to intimidate scientists or quash those results, democracy loses.” Shawn Otto

“One email I got said something like, ‘I hope your child sees your head in a basket after you’ve been guillotined for all the fraud you climate scientists have been committing.’” Katherine Hahoe, Evangelical Christian and Climate Scientist, Texas Tech University

Normally, at this time of year I publish a review of several books on science and STEM that you might want to consider for your summer reading.

This year, I’m limiting that list to one important must-read book, and a timely one at that, given the political season we’re in right now.

Shawn Otto’s latest work, The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It (2016) is a real page turner, proving once again that truth can be more exciting than fiction. For about a week, I read it every morning and evening on my commute and over the weekend. I picked it up any spare moment I had, because, even at 400+ pages, The War on Science reads like a thriller. I practically inhaled it and came away even more convinced that we are indeed in the midst of a war on science.

soldier-wallpaper-4

The first section of the book chronicles the rise, over several centuries, and more recent fall from grace of science and describes a current U. S. society, or at least a significant portion of it, “defiantly embracing unreason”— and this at a time when science and technology have a profound impact on every aspect of our lives. We should, in fact, be in a period of Renaissance in which various sciences converge and influence each other, leading to powerful positive outcomes for humanity, including ameliorating the progression and impact of global climate change. In fact, our current times exhibit some of the hallmarks of the Dark Ages, with scientists the target of mistrust and hatred, candidates for burning, figuratively by Congress and the media, if not literally at the stake.

Absent from political discourse in this election season has been a discussion of some of the challenges facing us that hinge on scientific solutions. For example, Otto would like to have candidates in a debate respond to questions like the following: “What are your thoughts on balancing energy and the environment? What steps will you take to stop the collapse of pollinator colonies and promote pollinator health? In an era of intense droughts, what steps will you take to better manage our freshwater resources? What should we do to prevent ocean fisheries collapses? Should we regulate the use of nanoparticles in our environment? Will you support federal funding to study science denial and the threat it poses to our democracy? When is it acceptable for a president or prime minister to implement policies that are contradicted by science? Will you support increased funding for curiosity-driven basic research? Do you support or oppose efforts to prosecute energy companies for funding denial of climate science? What steps would you take to repair the postdoctoral employment pipeline so that highly trained workers can get jobs in their fields? Do you support the banning of antibiotics in animal feed? What other steps should we take to stop the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?”… and dozens more. These are fascinating and important questions. It remains to be seen if any of them will be addressed in the upcoming Presidential debates. Want to place a bet on that?

The middle portion of the book, beginning with Chapter 7, provides a thorough, well-researched, and compelling analysis of the history, nature, and full extent of the war on science, from the rise of the ant-science news media, which under the guise of being “fair and balanced” allow unsupported opinions to have at least equal time with established science, to the assaults on science stemming from ideologues and industries joining forces to serve their own narrow interests.

The final portion of the book provides a blueprint for what can be done to win the war against science, including 14 very specific “battle plans” for various sectors of society to implement. There is even a battle plan for teachers: “Teachers Should Teach Science Civics,” science in conjunction with civics a.k.a. making those real world connections that the NGSS requires. Holding student science debates and establishing science literacy requirements would be part of that battle plan. Otto contends that we don’t lack the ability to win the war on science, but he wonders if we have the will and the vision.

“Winning the war on science is this generation’s calling. But are we capable of battling back the authoritarian resurgence? Do we have an understanding of science adequate to defend its unique role in human history and policymaking, or even to see the issues clearly — to base our political arguments and our journalistic coverage on knowledge and not just on the confused and endless cacophony of warring opinions from when the modern era first emerged? Are we able to look up from the grist mill long enough to consider the vast economic and political potential of a new and innovative world economy, circular, decarbonized, reinventing, wealth-building, and sustainable — and to fight with all we have to make it happen? Do we have the vision to even realize we are in such a battle, and that the future goes to those who act? These are the very serious questions by which this generation, and the human race itself, will ultimately be judged, and they remain unanswered.”

Reading Shawn Otto’s book made it absolutely clear to me that the work STEM teachers are doing is not only important, but is both essential and urgent. No nation can prosper if it either neglects or vilifies scientific endeavor. And our species might not survive if we continue to ignore our scientists and fail to support them in coming up with ways through the dangerous straits we have entered because of man-made climate disruption and environmental degradation, to name two of our most challenging issues. Both issues represent settled science. The only discussion we should be having about them is what must we do to address them.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Lost in authoritarian politics, ideology, public relations, and subjectivism, will we return to a state of miserable serfs ruled by a wealthy elite of religious and corporate royalty?” The choice is ours. “What is at stake is the freedom to investigate, debate, and express ideas that run counter to the interests of corporations and their political allies. Attacks on this basic freedom hide behind the guise of transparency but, in reality, are a step toward tyranny.”  Shawn Otto’s book is an important one and should be required reading for all citizens who value democracy and particularly by those who aspire to political office

You can watch Shawn Otto discuss his book here: (It’s 1 hr. 21 minutes and well worth watching.)

A closing thought: Perhaps if enough of us take the “Science Pledge” Otto includes toward the end of the book, we can set our country on a more promising and enlightened course. We must commit to support with our voices and votes the following principles:

• Public decisions must be based on evidence;
• Knowledge must not be suppressed;
• Scientific integrity must be protected;
• Freedom of inquiry must be encouraged; and,
• Mayor science issues must be openly debated.

Now let’s see how those Presidential debates go. You can weigh in here by signing a petition to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to focus one debate on questions of science. Then order yourself a copy of The War on Science and settle down for a great read!

~ Penny

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Filed under book review, Shawn Otto, The War on Science, Uncategorized, war on science