Science in the Backseat

While the political press continues to chatter endlessly about horse races, pardons or the prospect of pardons and the apparently unending series of Scott Pruitt missteps, more substantive stuff dribbles into the background.  Among those things is the role science and scientists play in American governance.

Yesterday saw a pretty serious failure of scientist-candidates to survive primary battles.  As Science notes, only one of the candidates endorsed by 314 Action survived to appear on a November ballot–and that candidate had no primary opposition. Most of the scientist-candidates fell to the bottom of the vote. It would seem that a science background is not something voters desire in their representatives. The experience of getting clobbered does not seem to be encouraging at least some of the losers to return to fight again in the future, though some other losers are continuing to be interested in public policy.

While the losses of scientist-candidates suggests a lack of desire among Democrats for that kind of expertise (nearly all the scientists are running as Democrats), administration action continues to sideline science, suggesting an equal lack of respect from the conservative part of the body politic. The science advisory board for EPA was sidelined from the development of the “transparency” policy proposed by the administration; it will instead weigh in separately, but having been left out of the loop, it seems clear that the board’s review will have little impact. This continues trends of disbanding advisory groups, barring scientists receiving grants from serving on remaining advisory panels, etc.

It is as though the world is putting on their virtual reality headsets and setting them to “personal ideal,” oblivious to real impacts resulting decisions might have. Meantime, science, the actual attempt by humans to develop a conceptual framework about the world around us that accurately describes reality, is being dropped to the wayside.

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