Sunday, May 3, 2020
The Cost Of Anti-Science Mentality
written 26 April 2020
published 3 May 2020
I was educated in engineering and physics and worked in university research. I respect science. While scientists are subject to the foibles of ego, and politics and economics can distort or hinder understanding, science as a whole is driven by a sincere curiosity to comprehend experienced reality. Verifiable truth matters. Science, and the technology that comes from it, has transformed the planet.
Anti-science resistance, to the point of execution, was first rooted in religion. The dominant spiritual world view was threatened by the demonstrable material truth coming from science. In the last 70 years resistance in America has come from economic orthodoxy, which is just as dogmatic and lethal in their belief structures.
Beginning in the 1950's, the American Petroleum Institute (API) attacked Caltech research showing Los Angeles basin smog resulted from a photochemical reaction of the exhaust from automobiles and industrial fossil fuel combustion. API hired their own scientists to highlight alleged uncertainty in the research. The goal was to confuse public opinion on the subject by creating "alternative evidence", and sow doubt. This successful strategy was quickly applied elsewhere.
In response to magazine articles reporting links between smoking and lung cancer, cigarette makers created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee to counter the bad publicity. Press releases challenged the science, casting doubt on studies and calling for more research, insisting there was no proof that cigarettes cause cancer, intentionally misleading the public about the dangers of smoking.
The same tactic has been used by the chemical industry to delay regulation of chemicals with known dangers, such as formaldehyde, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium. Corporate-funded scientists write medical journal articles, testify in court and before regulatory agencies, claiming their clients’ chemical products pose little or no health risks. Monsanto has been found to falsify testing to continue marketing RoundUp, fighting the growing evidence of its carcinogenic effects.
In the late 1970's, Exxon researchers told the company that burning fossil fuels would harm the planet and endanger humanity, warnings repeated 11 years later by NASA's James Hansen during congressional testimony. By then Exxon had disbanded their internal research group, and began funding an industry-wide campaign that focused on what was still unknown about climate change. The pro-industry Global Climate Coalition and the Global Climate Science Team sowed doubt and asserted that it wasn't even clear that climate change was occurring.
Significantly, in each of these cases the truth of harm to their customers was suppressed to protect profits, demonstrating not only the corporate priority, but the fact that these very profitable businesses are dependent on killing their host population. This is the economic model of a lethal parasite.
Decades of corporate attack on inconvenient science, and even science in general, has created a political divide. Science represents an intention toward truth, so now truth itself is suspect. Trump lies constantly, normalizing a disregard for even the concept of truth. By political inclination and personality disorder, President Trump can't admit that anyone knows anything important, and labels anything other than his opinion of the moment as "fake news"; he distrusts all science.
Which brings us to COVID-19.
The virus highlights the partisan division as different states react to the medical advice on social distancing from CDC. Those that have been most diligent are largely Democratic strongholds, and those most lax have been red states. With no medicine, no vaccine and no testing, shelter in place is the only way to prevent exponential spread crashing the health system, causing massive deaths. Places that started early have managed to "flatten the curve", but that doesn't mean the virus is gone.
There are very specific steps, rooted in medical science, which can allow more economic activity to proceed. The very first one is widespread, and repeated, testing. If we don't know where the virus is right now, we can't apply targeted isolation and care. Opening the economy without testing capacity is like speeding on the freeway in a white out fog.
Months into this America still has nothing close to the testing capacity needed due to Trump's corruption and anti-science mania. Under these conditions, opening the economy will kill more Americans, but make Trump look good in the polls for a brief moment. This passes as Republican leadership. America must do better.