War on Science: Endgame edition

So previously we’ve discussed how the current administration seems hell-bent on removing any kind of scientific information from being in the room when decisions are being made. This gets justified under claims of bias from scientists working within the government or funded by the government; the replacements, so far, have been representatives of industry or political appointees with no scientific backgrounds. Remember, this is not replacing scientists writing policy–they didn’t do that, this is replacing scientists providing scientific advice. It would be like replacing your dentist with an accountant.

What, exactly, is the result of this kind of maneuver? The answer may well be splashed across the front page of every paper in the country every few weeks.

A nice piece by Mark Rosenberg in Politico describes the result of blocking scientific inquiry into a public health issue from many years ago: the handcuffing of the Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health from examining gun violence. Although technically barring the organizations from lobbying for gun control, the effect has been to prevent any attempt to investigate what works and what does not work in preventing fatalities or injuries from gun use. The analogy Rosenberg uses is that of cars: scientific study of what made car crashes happen and make them fatal led to years of updates to cars and motor vehicle laws that have greatly reduced fatalities on the road.

So what has preventing similar work on gun safety meant? It means that as everybody wants to stop school shootings, nobody knows what might work. So as Florida students demand action from legislators, the problem is, what action is appropriate? The answer, as Rosenberg points out, is we don’t know. Could it be banning certain guns? Could it be some better screening? Could it be better school security? Because we don’t study it, we don’t really know.  The result, as everybody can see, is paralysis. This is, apparently, what the NRA wants because, it would seem, they fear any action which might impact gun ownership–even though we don’t know that that would be the recommendation that might emerge from research.

Now carry this forward to everything from toxic chemicals to unproven drugs to endangered species to climate change. Silencing science means you really have no idea what to do even once you agree there is a problem. Farmworkers mysteriously have incredibly high cancer rates? Maybe its the chemicals they handle, or maybe the food they eat, the places they live, their ancestry? Who knows? So do nothing. Songbirds suddenly vanish from cities across the country. Why? Who knows? Nothing to do about it.

Science is a tool to prevent you from deluding yourself. The only reason not to deploy it is to maintain personal delusions about the world around you. It would appear that this is the mindset of the current administration. The damage likely to emerge could be immense. Ignorance of the law is no defense in court.  Perhaps ignorance of science should similarly penalize those trying to exploit it.

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