Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shouting from the Rooftops

Reading the Press these days leaves one with a wonder of the long term stability of anything. Riding the E train in New York is just the same as it always has been but with one observation. I can no longer find a reader of a newspaper! I wonder where they get their information? I guess it is all that fake news stuff.

Now seventy years ago in the same subway there must have easily been a dozen different newspapers, and those were just the English language ones. Back then you could see a Telegraph, Journal American, Post, News, and so forth. Even a NY Times would possibly appear. Each paper had its own slant on the news and thus perhaps a fake news also.

Now we come to the seemingly terror drive calls from erstwhile "scientists" who fear attacks on science. I see this in Science, Nature, and even NEJM. The question one may pose is: doth they protest too much.

Take a recent NEJM screech:

Now, a U.S. administration that has demonstrated dogged disregard for truth has raised concern not only that the clash between science and belief will intensify, but also that science might be frankly suppressed. President Donald Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” voiced skepticism about vaccines, and appointed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency a man who has fought against its mission. ... The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently postponed a planned Climate and Health Summit, though that move may have been cautionary, meant to assuage an administration on which the agency relies for its funding. In the face of suppression of science, should scientists resist, or quietly proceed with their work? Resistance seems essential. That the CDC postponement prompted a coalition to form and organize an alternative meeting reminds us that resistance is as much about ensuring effective dissemination of findings as about continuing to conduct science. But it’s critical to recognize that suppressing science does not cause disbelief; rather, disbelief, particularly of science pertaining to highly politicized topics such as climate change, creates a cultural environment in which suppression of science is tolerated. So the real question is how do we resist effectively? How do we convince a skeptical public to believe in science? First, we need to stop assuming that disbelief necessarily reflects a knowledge deficit and can thus be remedied by facts. When doubt is wrapped up in one’s cultural identity or powerful emotions, facts often not only fail to persuade, but may further entrench skepticism. This phenomenon, often referred to as “biased assimilation,” has been demonstrated across a range of issues, ....Moreover, the propensity to dismiss evidence that threatens our identity or beliefs is nonpartisan: liberals, for instance, are far more likely than conservatives to dismiss science suggesting that genetically modified foods are safe. ...Second, in this highly polarized moment, we have to be careful not to inadvertently politicize science that has not already been pegged to a particular worldview. Dan Kahan, an expert on the way emotion and identity affect our interpretation of scientific facts, recently coauthored a study assessing how “culturally antagonistic memes” affected people’s ability to process information about an ostensibly neutral scientific issue: ...This risk of adding an identity-laden valence to otherwise neutral scientific matters makes resisting science denialism in the Trump era particularly tricky...

I think this writer is a bit over the top. DNA is still DNA and gravity still exists. As for global warming am I to believe the shouters or my lying eyes. Yes for thirty years I have seen a clear trend in earlier and earlier bloom times on sentinel plants. That is not weather it is climate. Do I know the cause? Not really, not my area of expertise. Is the problem bad? Not for me, I like the flowers, but then again my descendants may inherit ocean front property. We are 300 ft above sea level, now. So is it worth doing something about? Most likely, and best was is rational engagement. Now the premise of the above is that somehow the current administration is taking simple scientific ideas and politicizing them. Yeah! Its politics. Even been to Washington! The politicize everything.

Now is the current administration a bunch of Luddites? So far they seem to just want to get rid of massive Government control of everything. Does that mean the baby goes out with the bath water? All science comes to an end? Use your eyes!

As a former Democrat politician turned controller of a major science magazine states:

Based on a long career in science, with a substantial interlude in elected office, I say that these are excuses for inaction. Taking action is the best course when science is threatened or when science can illuminate public issues. Scientists should not fool themselves with the misconception that politics is dirty compared to the scientific enterprise, and they should therefore avoid the fight. Nor should scientists think that by standing back and letting the facts speak for themselves, they allow reason to prevail and proponents of flawed policies to wilt.

I also wonder why NEJM and others have become so politically sensitive. Perhaps they should focus on cancer, Zika, TB. Right now those are real problems that can be handled. Is politics dirty, you bet! For the past eight years as hundreds of million have clawed their way out of the economic disaster due to Washington, look at what has happened to DC. It has prospered beyond all belief. So is it a swamp. Yes. Always bring some garlic around your neck insider the Beltway!