Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

The Scary State of Science in American Society

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As we come to the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I find the state of science in America to be scary.  A lot of good research and development is being conducted, yet fewer Americans display a basic understanding of scientific fact than do most (any?) other industrialized nation.  Americans’ religious evangelism has a great deal to do with this.  Yet the following came as somewhat of a shock to me.  Bill Nye (the Science Guy) was booed at a lecture last week in Waco, TX.  Why?  For saying the moon reflects light from the sun.  People are certainly entitled to believe whatever they choose.  I simply find it interesting that faith can shove fact out of the way so easily for so many.  I also think the episode reflects a great deal of disrespect on the part of the Christians in attendance.  They’re free to disagree with whatever Nye said in his lecture.  But to boo at him during the lecture isn’t classy – it’s the behavior of people who love to self-victimize.

The second example of the sad state of science in America today is related, of course, to politics.  In this story, Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton asked Energy Secretary Stephen Chu a question during testimony on President Obama’s clean energy proposals.  The question was incredibly ludicrous and demonstrates how important it is to send science-savvy officials to Washington to represent you.  Here is the question:

I have one simple question for you in the last six seconds. How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska and under the Arctic Ocean?

I’m not going to mince words on this one: what is this idiot thinking by asking this question?  He has to have an intense desire to publicly show how scientifically ignorant he is.  Contrary to what today’s Republican Party (co-opted by extremists, granted) think, this lack of savvy isn’t a positive attribute for Barton to hold.

Unfortunately, I’ve personally encountered such thinking before.  I couldn’t believe people could actually believe that fossil fuels are somehow created near the Earth’s core or that it travels like rivers under the surface, but they do.  What it boils down to is willful ignorance.  People would rather believe nonsense like the above than the scientifically accepted facts that fossil fuels exist due to millions of years of decomposing biomass.

Barton went on to discuss pipelines and warmer conditions in the Arctic – really nothing terribly intelligent.  Yet somehow, Barton thought he came out on top of the exchange, as he Tweeted that he had stumped the Energy Secretary.  No, Mr. Barton – you’re trying to make hay out of empty air.  I guarantee Sec. Chu understands the science of fossil fuel creation better than you.  Barton’s credentials?  A Representative from a heavy oil-drilling state and a degree in industrial engineering.  Sec. Chu’s credentials?  A Nobel-prize winning physicist.  In fact, that’s probably why Stephen Chu is an Energy Secretary and Joe Barton is an pro-industry obstructionist politician.


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