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Does water really boil at 212˚F?

Author discusses the increasing war on science

Keith Vandervort
Posted 11/22/17

ELY – What is your opinion on the boiling point of water? Science students learn that water boils at 212 degrees. More and more, some seem to think that science is just an opinion.

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Does water really boil at 212˚F?

Author discusses the increasing war on science


ELY – What is your opinion on the boiling point of water? Science students learn that water boils at 212 degrees. More and more, some seem to think that science is just an opinion.

Minnesota author and playwright Shawn Otto discussed his latest book, “The War on Science,” at a recent Tuesday Group gathering and gave his perspective of what happened in the world over the last several decades that has allowed science to be based on opinions and emotion rather than facts.

A decade ago, Otto said he and friend, also a screenwriter and science writer, who happens to be the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, noticed that big science and engineering issues were not being discussed by the presidential candidates.

“We thought it was peculiar that something had transformed in our public dialogue whereby candidates didn’t even want to debate science,” Otto said. “They instead were eager to talk about faith and values.”

Science has driven as much as 60-percent of America’s economic development since World War II, and it is a “massive wealth creator,” according to Otto.

His first book in exploring this phenomenon was called “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the War on Science.” He considers his latest publication a follow-up to that volume documenting the public dialogue of science.

Otto paraphrased the importance of science in the founding of the United States. “Thomas Jefferson said if anyone can discover the truth of something using the tools of reason and science, then no king, no pope, no wealthy lord is more entitled to govern than we are ourselves,” he said.

“Some 240 years later, science and technology have advanced to the point where a cell phone is essentially equivalent to Harry Potter’s broom: both made by people wearing long robes and uttering strange incantations,” Ott said.

Most people don’t know how gadgets such as cell phones work. It appears to be magic. “That is a fundamental change from how we viewed science and technology when we were kids,” he said. “Nowadays, science has become more a matter of belief and if you don’t understand how it works, you can become vulnerable to disinformation campaigns.”

Otto talked about this growing threat to democracy. “As science and technology become more and more advanced, how are we able to govern ourselves.” He ventured a guess that within the next 20 to 30 years, as much knowledge will be produced as in all recorded human history.

Of the 535 members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, just 11 (two percent) have any sort of background in science. Some 40-percent of U.S. lawmakers are lawyers.

“Lawyers argue toward a goal,” Otto said. He went on to assert that lawyers in Congress tend to argue toward the death of science in arguing for their policy ideas. “This becomes increasingly problematic because we are not basing policy necessarily on what the evidence suggests but on who has made the most convincing argument,” he said, “or who is the most intimidated by big money being spent against them.”

Jumping to the Executive Branch and the man who said he was going to “drain the swamp,” Otto discussed Donald Trump’s science deniers.

“Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil has denied climate change in the past and has deeply prioritized that in the U.S. State Department,” he said. “Rick Perry is the guy that couldn’t even remember the Energy Department existed, and now he’s in charge. Scott Pruitt is the man who sued the Environmental Protection Agency a dozen times and has been appointed to run it.”

A consistent strategy in the Trump administration has been to take ideological opponents of various departments and put them in charge of them in an effort to “break government,” he asserted. “In many ways, this represents the regulatory capture of the executive branch by big business,” he said, as he offered evidence of various government websites scrubbed of scientific data, some at the hour of the 45th president’s inauguration.

There is this fight in the Republican Party over the role of industry versus the role of science and reason, according to Otto. He described ways to recognize industry propaganda campaigns: a high or emotionally hysterical tone; us-versus-them messaging; good-guy visibility; mocking opponents; front groups or third party technique; cherry-picking of data and science denial; and the stress of uncertainty of the existing science.

Otto has no faith in the reliability of the press in the war on science. “In the last two decades, journalism schools have taught that there is no such thing as objectivity,” Otto said. “The more motivated person with the most convincing argument steers our public dialogue in an irresponsible way toward authoritarian and big money influence.”

Otto offered the following weapons in the fight on the war on science. “Demand better news and complain when you don’t get it,” he said. “Ask for better sermons. There is no reason why pastors and priests can’t be members of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. Teachers should teach science civics. Demand corporate accountability. And make noise, organize, and vote as if our democracy depended on it.”


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Without science we go nowhere.

Friday, November 24, 2017

"If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline: 'Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point'."

Nov. 1, 2000, Paul Krugman

Saturday, November 25, 2017