Politics and Science
“And physics students care about this too?”
This was Oberlin College’s Protestant chaplain Fred Lassen’s response to my outrage about the many decisions that the Bush administration has made regarding stem cells, FDA announcements and even information put on the federal websites concerning women’s health. The general public has very little knowledge about the decisions the current administration has made against science. Even those who know about them fail to realize what severe implications these decisions will have.
Although there is a lot of good-natured teasing and competition between various scientific disciplines, in the end they are all striving for the same thing: the truth. It’s that simple. And when we come right down to it, that’s what all of us at Oberlin College are trying to do. Whether we investigate the past through rocks to understand the present earth or look at how different policies have shaped South American economics, we are trying to understand the world in the best way possible. And the Bush administration is hindering our progress in this direction by blurring the line between natural phenomena and ideology.
Many students attended the talk that journalist Chris Mooney gave last Thursday on his book, The Republican War on Science. The problem he addressed affects us all. For example, the Data Quality Act of 2000 is only two sentences long, and aims to ensure that all information put out by the federal government is reliable. In reality, it has been used to block scientific progressions that are deemed unfavorable to right-wing interests by claiming it does not contain “sound science.”
The right-wing doesn’t stop at federal science. The Kansas Board of Education redefined science earlier this month by omitting the word “natural” from its definition, no longer limiting scientific inquiry to testable hypotheses. Yes, they have redefined science for themselves, undermining the definitions of every field of science from physics to biology to economics.
You might think that these changes will not affect you as a liberal-minded college student, but they will. All kinds of science put forward by both the government and private industries have huge impacts on each and every one of our lives. For example, every single piece of electronics is made possible through advancements in physics — advancements that come from political and economic pressures. The impact of recent changes will be felt when you will not be allowed to investigate the world in the way history has shown to be the best way: scientifically. You will not receive funding for your research if you do not adhere to the definition of “science” as redefined by those conservative law-makers looking to promote their policies.
As academics and intellectuals, we need to increase awareness in order to prevent any more large-scale changes that would result in irreversible damage to the advancement of knowledge. Tell people what is going on. Make them aware. Listen to candidates and ask them outright what they think about these issues. We cannot be complacent. This is more serious than many of us have likely realized.
I am not defending evolution’s current definition, nor am I contesting
every argument that might challenge it. The theory of evolution itself has
undergone many redefinitions. Different scientific groups believe that
evolution occurs in different ways. Still, all of these theories are based on
physical proof. That is the one thing that brings all of the sciences together.
Without this power, essential truths are controlled by those who wish to further
their own agendas.