I went off to college with a year’s worth of AP credits in calculus, physics, biology and chemistry. And while it made perfect sense to stay on track, I ended up completing a major in chemistry before I’d even had a chance to think about what I really wanted to do.
But I’ve never regretted spending all that time studying science and I still follow science closely and have enormous respect for folks who continued on past college to earn advance degrees and contribute to the field.
Most educated folks feel the same way – even if they ran screaming from chem lab, they see their doctors regularly and have higher life expectancies and are paying close attention to the recommendations coming from the academies and labs about COVID.
But not everyone feels the same way.
This week South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem referred to scientists as “an elite class of so-called experts” and refused to let their recommendations curb “individual liberties.” South Dakota, it may be noted, recently hosted a motorcycle rally that’s resulted in thousands of infections and despite that intends to hold a massive state fair. Because, what could possibly go wrong?
And she’s not alone. There’s a wide cadre of folks who are happy to dispute scientific findings and recommendations.
Why is it that so many people have lost respect for science?
You’d think that in an age when we hurtle around the globe in airplanes and carry massive computers in our pockets and determine the genetic profile of babies in utero that we’d be on our knees worshipping scientists. Science, after all, is what lifted us out of caves. And gave us wide-screen TVs and microwaveable pizza.
But instead we not only distrust the recommendations of scientists, we repudiate their efforts.
Look at all the arguments about the impacts of global warming and pollution on the environment. The majority of legitimate scientists concur that the world is heating up and that pollutants are having a negative impact on the environment and its species.
And yes, their recommendations often put a crimp in the plans of all kinds of different corporations. And we can understand why these corporations might fear for their bottom lines. They have a legitimate interest — they have investors and stockholders who demand profits, they create jobs and desirable products. But instead of making that argument, they often try to repudiate the science.
Which is a hard lift. I mean seriously, the evidence is overwhelming. Temperatures are rising. Temperate zones are shifting. And coastal cities are flooding due to rising waters from melting icecaps. Look at Venice, Miami, and even Madison where the Army Corps of Engineers now mandates that houses on the beach be jacked sky high. Not that that will stop the rising tides.
Or the fires. California is in flames. And yes, despite the warnings, there are still idiots who set fires. God help the poor child whose parents ignited thousands of acres in their efforts to out “gender reveal” the Joneses. But the majority of these fires are due to lightning strikes in forests that have been dried to tinder by global warming.
So yes, corporations have a legitimate interest and they will need to be supported. But how many people will have to be driven from their flooded cities or burning homes before we admit that the trade-offs might not be worth it? And that it might be time to invest in businesses that help the environment instead of hurt it?
On another scientific battlefront, “hurt” is the argument against vaccines. Vaccines have been incredibly effective in eradicating all kinds of deadly diseases. But they aren’t perfect. They don’t offer 100 percent protection and they may impact a very small percentage of the population negatively. But having visited a family friend as a child and watched her struggle for breath inside the iron lung she needed thanks to polio, I’m willing to take my chances on a vaccine.
As long as it has been developed and tested and approved by accredited scientists in that field.
And kudos, by the way, to Astra Zeneca for standing up and stopping a trial of a vaccine when one of the subjects showed signs of contracting a serious neurological disease. And kudos to the eight other pharmaceutical companies that have taken a pledge not to bring a vaccine to market until it has been thoroughly tested and proven to be both effective and safe.
They are not only stepping up to help combat this vicious disease but they are showing through the transparency of their process and their insistence on protocols the way science really works — through thoughtful experimentation, analysis and more experimentation until results can be replicated and proven reliable.
And you’d think that in an age when parents are coaching their infants in utero and fighting for placement at the top nursery schools and risking jail to get them into the right colleges, that they’d respect the efforts of those who’ve dedicated a dozen years or more to earn doctorates and win research grants and secure positions at top labs, hospitals and universities and that they’d listen to their recommendations. After all, we worship top athletes and musicians and entrepreneurs, aping everything they do, say and buy.
So why when it comes to science do we think we know better?
And it’s not just a recent phenomenon. Look at Galileo, condemned by the pope because his experiments proved that the earth orbited around the sun, and placed under house arrest until his death. Michael Servetus, a Spanish scientist who discovered pulmonary circulation, was burned at the stake. Einstein was persecuted by his German colleagues as well as the Nazis because his ideas about relativity confounded them and, of course, because he was Jewish.
But today’s disrespect for science is a bit different. We’re not as apt to object to science or scientists because they contradict religious doctrine – except, of course, when it comes to women and their right to control their own bodies. Now the objection seems to be that the scientists themselves are somehow suspect as “elites,” their years of study and effort somehow making them untrustworthy.
And yet, where do parents run when their unvaccinated children get measles? To the doctor.
None of this makes any sense to me.
My daughter had the benefit of a world class education and is now a sought-after expert in her own right. Isn’t this what we want for all our children? To give them the opportunity to study and achieve mastery in a field they love so they can give back to the world? What caused this disconnect between our dreams for our children and our disrespect for those who achieve these dreams?
And why are we supporting those who exploit this distrust of expertise? And yes, politicians are experts in their own right – at persuasion. But their campaigns against the science are being disproven every day. South Dakota’s COVID numbers are spiking, its healthcare system straining under the weight of an overwhelming number of cases. Despite this, they still won’t follow the advice of scientists and they are not alone in their refusal to advocate for safe protocols – masking, hygiene, social distancing, patience.
Why are we ignoring all the advice given by scientists and at the same time begging them to hurry up and give us a vaccine?
I suggest we think about the principles that make life worthwhile and then work to have them implemented because without sound principles governing what we do, the inferno in California will just be an amuse-bouche.