US Democracy under Attack from the “uninhibited use of lies, false statements and bad science”

US Democracy under Attack from the “uninhibited use of lies, false statements and bad science” March 7, 2017

There is a fascinating article (drawing from another in Wired) in the Independent concerning the rise of dangerously illiterate (in terms of epistemology) people in positions of power in the US government. This is threatening science and scientists, and the world at large, considering climate denialism is prevalent in the present government.

A leading climatologist has warned US democracy is under attack from the “uninhibited use of lies, false statements and bad science”, as he urged people to take part in public demonstrations in support of science….

At the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, its chief executive Rush Holt said some members had expressed fear that the US could become like the Soviet Union, where ideology carried more weight than hard evidence.

Clearly sharing similar concerns, Dr Gleick, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, said he planned to attend both the March for Science and the Climate March in April.

The demonstrations were prompted by Donald Trump’s stance on science and follow the Women’s Marches around the world held in response to a man who bragged about being able to sexually assault women because he was a celebrity becoming US President. He later insisted he had never actually done so and his remarks were “locker-room talk”.

I really feel, in terms of so many areas in society, that science, and evidence-based policy making is being attacked and minimised.

“A disturbing array of fundamental social and human values are under assault in the United States,” Dr Gleick wrote.

“These values – basic human rights, amicable international relationships, environmental justice, free speech, separation of church and state, an open and independent media, and more – form the bedrock of what makes our country special.

“Yet these values are being undermined in an unprecedented assault by the Trump administration and by politicians who see an opportunity for an unprincipled massive power grab.

“One tool being used in this assault on democracy is the uninhibited use of lies, false statements, blatant and intentional misrepresentations of fact, and bad science.

“This is evident in the rejection of the undeniable reality of climate change by many of Trump’s top appointees, the promotion to power of individuals who reject the fact of evolution in favour of pseudoscience and religious fundamentalism, the spreading of bad medical science around the proven safety of vaccines, and the refusal to study the health risks of guns.”

He said he had found the news over the past few weeks “frightening”.

“I have colleagues in countries targeted by travel and religious bans. My work uses scientific data collected, managed, and now potentially censored or hidden by federal agencies,” Dr Gleick said.

“I see Congressional representatives and committees seek out bad science to support predetermined and ideological positions, and then threaten scientists who challenge them.”

Scientists tended to fear their work could become “tainted by politics”, he said, adding the rewards for expressing political opinions were few.

“But when the time comes to speak, to stand up, those of us who can must do so. That time has come,” he said.

“When politics threatens fundamental social values and principles, the defence of those values and principles becomes an over-riding priority.”

[My emphasis]

All of which is thoroughly depressing. I wonder, though, if science can win this battle (as truth often does), and if this Trumpian storm can be weathered… I wonder if science may become stronger. Will this actually force scientists to become better communicators, or faculties and organisations to do more and better to interact and inform the public, right across the demographics? (It turns out that for Republicans, the college-educated are more likely to deny climate change, where the reverse is true for Democrats.)

There will be a March for Science on April 22nd, and the People’s Climate March on April 29th.

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