How did life begin? What’s the cure for cancer? What causes Alzheimer’s? Are we alone in the universe? When will we run out of water? Is our air safe to breathe? How much can we alter our environment and still survive?
Science cannot solve all of our mysteries. It is, after all, a human process – one often clouded in uncertainty. Yet science is more than a compilation of data and statistics. It is the pursuit of evidence-based answers to the questions that bedevil us, and even if we don’t ever have clarity, this pursuit brings us knowledge, shining light on what we know as well as what we still need to figure out. Silencing scientists plunges us back into darkness.
Yet today an anti-science attitude has infiltrated many aspects of our government and politicized its decision-making. In my 35 years of covering these topics as a journalist, I have never encountered such extreme dismay and alarm from scientists about the threats they encounter while they seek answers to critical questions.
One longtime public health researcher said that scientists feel under siege from “industrial-scale doubt promulgators,” extreme social media harassment and personal attacks.
“If you discover something important that requires an industry or industries to rethink their practices and products, you are guaranteed to invite a deluge of unwanted attention, and you will not have the resources to defend yourself,” this university scientist told me. “It is hard to have optimism that any important discovery I might make and publish will have a positive influence on potential policy implications.”
Defending science should not be a partisan issue. The gathering of evidence and the pursuit of truth should be at the core of every decision we make, every policy that is formulated, every effort to protect the health of people and the planet. Science will not always provide sensible solutions to the problems plaguing our world. But at the very least, politicians and policymakers must understand the facts, the correlations, the relationships, the data, the laws of nature, before they act, rather than molding the facts to suit their personal convictions, ignoring the science if they disagree or even eliminating the pursuit of science.
Science should be the starting point for most every discussion we have.
With this in mind, understanding science is more important than ever. “Science literacy is the artery through which the solutions of tomorrow’s problems flow,” said astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson.
“We must take science out of the labs and journals,” declared the scientists who championed the March for Science, “and share it with the world.”
At Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, we share that common goal. We have assembled a team to reveal conflicts between science and government and investigate the politicization of decision-making and the misuse of science, which poses threats to our health, welfare and resources. Ideas are welcome; please send them to me, Senior Editor Marla Cone, at firstname.lastname@example.org.