Scientific Ignorance

The new chair of the House Science and Technology Committee is Rep. Lamar Smith. He’s a Republican from Texas so that pretty much tells you what you need to know about Mr. Smith. Texas is the state, you will recall, where a recent survey revealed that four out of ten high school science teachers think that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time. It’s also the state where creationism is routinely taught as a science.  So it makes perfect sense that we would want such a man to head up this science committee where the first order of business, we are told, will be to convene a hearing to determine whether or not the globe is in fact warming. The fact that these men might not know a fact if it bit them in the britches is apparently not to the point.

Heading up the House Science Subcommittee is Representative Paul Brown (R-Ga) who famously said “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” I wouldn’t know if this is true because I have never been to Hell, but I will take Mr. Brown’s word for it; I assume he knows whereof he speaks. But it still makes me nervous to think that men of this caliber are leading this country. Madison and Jefferson must be turning over in their graves.

In any event, I shall pass over the irony that stares us in the face to address the comment of Representative Brown which shows an alarming ignorance about just what science is. Because science, if it is properly understood, does not allow an intelligent person to accept or reject its conclusions at will. Those conclusions demand our attention and acceptance — whether we like them or not. And I assume that Mr. Brown would prefer to think of himself as an intelligent person — even if we find it difficult to agree with him.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not a devotee of science. I am not a true believer. I think there are things science does not know and there are limitations to the scientific method. There are things in literature and poetry, for example, that are profoundly true but which cannot be known by science or reduced to scientific formulas. But this is because science relies on mathematics and it insists on quantifying data in order to measure and calculate. In its proper domain, however, when it follows the correct procedures and presents its findings to the scientific community — which then has the opportunity to test its findings — it makes no sense whatever to contend that science is “straight from the pit of Hell” (no matter how familiar we are with that part of the cosmos.)

Representatives Brown and Smith will be involved in the search for what they regard as truth with respect to the warming of the globe. This despite the fact that the government they are a part of recently completed a study involving 300 scientific experts (including NASA) who agreed overwhelmingly that the earth is warming at an alarming rate and that humans are very much a part of the cause. So the globe will continue to heat up, our weather will become more and more freaky with “events” like hurricane Sandy becoming more common, the drought in the Midwest will continue and crops will burn up in the fields while forests are increasingly engulfed in flames. At some point even people like these two men will have to admit there is a problem.

In the meantime they (and 74% of their fellow Republicans in Congress) continue to deny the obvious. They put me in mind of a group of morons sitting around a table in a cabin perched on the side of a mountain ignoring the increasingly loud noise from the approaching avalanche as they discuss whether or not they should (maybe?) shore up the roof.