If Science Eludes Us, So Does Democracy
Thirty-four years ago, I wrote an op-ed with the same title as this one. At the time, I was a grad student at UW. This article was published in the Seattle Times on 8/17/1986. You can click here to see my old and yellowed copy of this.
Or if you are a Times subscriber, you can read it in the Seattle Times archive here:
With the exit of Donald Trump from the Whitehouse, a president who openly contradicted scientists and gave us a front row seat of an administration built on lies, it is interesting to go back to my 1986 piece and reevaluate the importance of science to our democracy. In 1986, I thought a key problem was the public’s lack of understanding of science and technology and the rise of bureaucrats making decisions with little input from the public on technical matters. My solution was more science education for all. But I missed a key development, the rise of a significant part of the U.S. citizenry that is not limited by facts and is willing to believe almost anything that fits their preconceived notion of reality. The election of Trump led to a President who would draw on weather maps where he thought a hurricane would go, contradicting knowledgeable weather forecasters (Sharpiegate), told us that Covid-19 would simply disappear, made up lies about climate change and then, most alarmingly, lied about the election results. Trump told us thousands of lies. In fact the Washington Post has reported that Trump told more than 30 thousand lies since coming into office in January of 2017. If Trump thought congress would go along, he probably would have repealed the laws of Physics!
So where do we go from here? Even with Trump gone, there are still many politicians willing to lie and rewrite history. Some are trying to blame the Black Lives Matter movement for riots at the U.S. Capitol. How bizarre.
There are no easy answers, but I think I was correct about one thing back in 1986: we need more and better education for all. Not just science education, but, reading, math, the arts, history, social studies, critical thinking and all of it. We need to acknowledge the critical role that teachers play in our society. We also need a Department of Education that helps and leads the states in raising their standards and supporting education everywhere for every citizen, regardless of race or zip code. We need fact checkers, reporters and honest media, like the Seattle Times, to continue to dig into stories and help us learn and understand the truth. Incoming President Biden recognizes the importance of science in fighting Covid-19, climate change and other challenges. We also need a President who will work towards economic and environmental justice for all and tell us the truth, always. I am hopeful that the incoming administration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris will do just that.