Forecaster Forum: Science isn’t the problem

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Don’t blame science. Science didn’t do anything wrong, because science can’t do anything.

Science is just an idea, a way of studying things that has proven remarkably effective and helpful. But all too often, when humans misuse or misrepresent science, science ends up getting the blame.

I’ve been surprised this past month – while promoting the upcoming Marches for Science (including the one in Portland) – at how many Mainers are angry at science for a wide range of societal problems, from factory closings and job losses to environmental regulations, erosion of morality, and the opioid crisis.

We’re not just angry at products of science (such as automation, birth control, and narcotics), or just angry at the companies that make and market those products, but angry at science itself. And many of those who are not angry at science dismiss its importance.

This is crazy. America was built on science, just as much as it was built on freedom and liberty and pioneering spirit. Other countries envy us because of what we have accomplished through science and scientific thinking – from putting man on the moon, to developing the internet and smart phones, and new ways of farming that protect us from famine.

Science was a big part of what made America great and will be necessary if we hope to “Make America Great Again.” And yet a growing anti-science movement seems to have taken over politics in this country, especially – but not exclusively – the Republican Party, culminating last year in the election of an anti-science president to go along with Maine’s science-dismissive governor, Paul LePage, who has described himself as “Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.”

This is sad because science not only is not the problem, but science can provide guidance toward solutions – if we use it. Because science works. And not just for scientists.

Scientific thinking and methods were developed to provide protection against human reasoning errors we all face: confirmation bias, availability and representativeness heuristics, and cognitive dissonance, among others. Tendencies that get us by most of the time, but still – and all too often – lead us into emotional reasoning and decisions we later end up regretting.

I understand that science can be frustrating – not just difficult to put into practice, but often giving us answers we don’t like. And there are plenty of questions science can’t answer, like which is more immoral: permitting abortion or taking away a woman’s right to choose? But even then, science can provide information to inform the decisions we make about such issues – information that’s much better than just going with our gut.

Yes, science has become political. (To those scientists who have objected to the March for Science on April 22, I’m sorry, but it’s too late for that.) But science doesn’t have to be partisan. Science is not owned by any political party, and pro-science voters can decide to whether a candidate’s commitment to science (or not) is more important than whether they are Republican, Democrat or independent. And if enough of us did that, wouldn’t that make an important point?

So, on April 22, I will be marching for science, because I believe in science and believe science needs supporters in the current anti-science climate. And I hope you will join me. If you do, there are a lot of Marches for Science to choose from – more than 400 around the world and four here in Maine. I’ll be at the march in Portland, which starts at 10 a.m. at City Hall (you can also march in Orono, Sanford, or Machias). If you do, take your kids. They are our future, so it’s important they learn that science is important, too.

Gordon Street is a clinical psychologist in Raymond, and a former newspaper reporter.

  • Bryan See

    I wish I could say the anti-science movement is coming, and reflects the predictions made by Baba Vanga, Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce has come true, with the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. Baba Vanga, the blind Macedonian-born Bulgarian seer, saw it coming. She, along with Edgar Cayce, said that Barack Obama was indeed the last President and would be followed by a Messianic personality – Donald Trump – with Vladimir Putin guiding in the back. She also stated that when the permafrost thaws and floods come, nothing will survive on Earth but Russia, the climate will change and Russia will occupy the best inhabitable zone. Plus, Russia is predicted to herald in world peace and flourish in the face of good fortune – which clearly means corruption, nepotism, criminality, and stagnation in the dark ages.

    “Everything will melt away like ice yet the glories of Vladimir, the glory of Russia are the only things that will remain. Russia will not only survive, it will dominate the world.”

    I guess that this phrase “Everything will melt away like ice” is something that is warned about by many, including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist Noam Chomsky, Joe Biden, and, of course, filmmaker Michael Moore.

    Elon Musk, who unveiled his plans for the Interplanetary Transport System last September, voiced concern in his GQ interview in December 2015 that the threat of WWIII, growth of religious extremism and anti-technology movements such as ones headed by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could stop us from colonizing Mars, among other things.

    Musk commented: “I don’t think we can discount the possibility of a third World War. You know, in 1912 they were proclaiming a new age of peace and prosperity, saying that it was a golden age, war was over. And then you had World War I followed by World War II followed by the Cold War. So I think we need to acknowledge that there’s certainly a possibility of a third World War, and if that does occur it could be far worse than anything that’s happened before. Let’s say nuclear weapons are used. I mean, there could be a very powerful social movement that’s anti-technology.”

    He also noted a number of times where eras of great technological advances were followed by stretches of decline. In particular, he referenced the periods following the building of Egypt’s Great Pyramids and the flourishing of the Roman Empire. Musk believes colonizing Mars is well within the realm of possibility; however, that endeavor should be pursued soon before an event like another massive war or something similar prevents it from happening.

    “I think it’s gonna seem pretty crazy, no matter what. It’s really big. There’s not been any architecture like this described that I’m aware of,” he said.

    Musk sees the colonization of Mars as a moral duty to ensure the survival of mankind the same way a USB drive is meant to preserve data in case a computer crashes. A Martian colony could guarantee humanity survives in the event of a debacle that destroys life on Earth. “You back up your hard drive. Maybe we should back up life, too?” he asked.

    Global catastrophes take on many forms, but Musk believes a third World War is the most imminent threat on the horizon. But Michael Moore believes there is something different. Upon reacting to Trump’s undoing of Obama’s climate rules last March, he predicted: “Historians in the near future will mark today, March 28, 2017, as the day the extinction of human life on earth began, thanks 2 Donald Trump.”

    In other words, for many, Putin and Trump are ingredients for the perfect disaster recipe. They will be responsible for laying waste to Earth and according to Vanga, Trump will fulfill prophecy – that he will be instrumental in the extinction of human life on earth – as early as 2018. Also, as visualized by Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce and Baba Vanga, man will self-destruct when the right button is pushed.

    When asked in 1932 about political and economic trends in Europe Cayce zeroed in on Russia:

    “Europe is as a house broken up. Some years ago there was the experience of a mighty peoples being overridden for the gratification and satisfaction of a few, irrespective of any other man’s right. That peoples are going through the experience of being born again, and is the thorn in the flesh to many a political and financial nation in Europe, in the world… Q. What is the name of that nation referred to? A. Russia! (3976-8)”

    Cayce spoke of Russia’s role as being the “hope of the world” in a coming time such as this:

    “In Russia there comes the hope of the world, not as that sometimes termed of the communistic, or Bolshevik, no; but freedom, freedom! That each man will live for his fellow man! The principle has been born. It will take years for it to be crystallised, but out of Russia comes again the hope of the world.”
    (Edgar Cayce, 1944, No. 3976-29)

    Even before WWII, Cayce appears to have foreseen the need for Russia to evolve spiritually in some manner so that it would be able to rise in opposition to the decaying moral values of the capitalist West and play its part as the great hope of the world.

    Cayce was asked, “What should be the attitude of so called capitalist nations toward Russia?”

    On Russia’s religious development will come the greater hope of the world. Then that one, or group, that is the closer in its relationships, may fare the better in the gradual changes and final settlement of conditions as to the rule of the world. (3976-10)

    Six months later, additional information was presented which helped to clarify this earlier prediction.

    Out of Russia, you see, there may come that which may be the basis of a more world wide religious thought or trend… (3976-12)

    When Hugh Lynn Cayce asked about the Russian situation in June 1938, he was told:

    A new understanding has and will come to a troubled people. Here, because of the yoke of oppression, because of the self indulgences, has arisen another extreme. Only when there is freedom of speech, the right to worship according to the dictates of the conscience—until these come about, still turmoils will be within. (3976-19)

    Cayce also made comments about America’s future moral decay:

    In the final World Affairs reading given on June 22, 1944, less than six months before Edgar’s death, he addresses the spirit and “the sin of America.”

    What is the spirit of America? Most individuals proudly boast “freedom.” Freedom of what? When ye bind men’s hearts and minds through various ways and manners, does it give them freedom of speech? Freedom of worship? Freedom from want?…In the application of these principles…America may boast, but rather is that principle being forgotten… and that is the sin of America. (3976-29) Reading 3975-15, given on January…

    Nothing in there says anything about Trump (and frankly, given the use of the word “freedom” twice in one of his readings seems to indicate it’s definitely not about Putin). This prediction could be about Gorbachev. It could be about something to come. It could be about nothing at all because as a prediction goes, it’s so vague as to be meaningless. But nowhere does it give any kind of hint it’s about Donald Trump.

    Donald Trump cannot be the hope of the world. The man is a lost soul. I have never seen anyone so separated from the truth. There are many psychologists and psychiatrists who say that Trump is in some kind of fight with reality. How can Russia be the hope of the world? It has been involved in atrocities all over the world, lately, especially the Ukraine and Syria. Russia would like to take over more land, which would also involve the destruction of even more people. What some soothsayer said 80 years ago does not matter, now!

  • PKM

    This is almost as silly as the piece that derided the 100 million dollar cut in the NASA budget that so many in the ‘science’ community became so upset about- I guess details about the budget escaped them- there was still 1.8 BILLION left in the budget- it was a small haircut like every other department took.

  • Bowdoin81

    The March for Science was a lost opportunity. I should have been there to survey the marchers on two questions: Do you believe insurance carriers should be forced to cover “naturopathic” medicine, and are you afraid of GMO technology in agriculture?
    My pre-conception is that lots of the marchers would say yes to one or both of those questions, decidedly non-scientific positions. Drats. I lost my chance to test my thesis.