Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Defending science vs. defunding science

I keep wanting to bring you some good news, honestly I do.  But lately all I've seen is more reason to fuel my inner pessimist.

The latest assault on any Pollyannas that are still floating around comes from Bob Walker, senior adviser to President-elect Trump, who has stated the incoming administration's intent to defund NASA's Earth Sciences Division.  In an interview with The Guardian, Walker said:
NASA’s Earth Science Division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century.
Which might, on first glance, not sound that bad, just a defunding of one program in favor of another...  Until you realize that the Earth Sciences Division is the branch of NASA that is studying climate change.

Then, if you're like me, you have an "aha" moment.

Walker went on to say:
My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing NASA programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies.  I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing.  Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.
In other words, the climate scientists have not come to the conclusion the President-elect and his advisers want, so time to pull funding from the bastards and hand the money to agencies that will come to the politically expedient conclusions.

And who, exactly, is at fault for "politicizing" climate science?  It certainly isn't the climate scientists themselves, who are simply studying the data itself (i.e., the facts) and would be much happier if the politicians and petroleum lobby would just butt the hell out.  It's legislators like James "Senator Snowball" Inhofe and Lamar "Harass 'Em Till They Give Up" Smith.  And, it must be said, the President-elect himself, who went on record as saying that climate change was a "hoax perpetrated by the Chinese."

Hell, climate change denial is a part of the Republican Party platform.  They have received millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry to finance a disinformation program, all too similar to the one waged against the medical establishment by the tobacco industry to weaken the public perception of the connection between smoking and cancer.

Oh, but do go on about how the nasty liberals and crooked climate scientists are the ones who politicized this.

[image courtesy of NASA]

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy was unequivocal about what a terrible move this is:
If this slashing of NASA Earth science comes to pass, it will be a disaster for humanity.  This is no exaggeration: NASA is the leading agency in studying the effects of global warming on the planet, in measuring the changes in our atmosphere, our oceans, the weather, and yes, the climate as temperatures increase.  They have a fleet of spacecraft observing the Earth, and plans for more to better understand our environment.  That’s all on the chopping block now.
Equally strong were the words from Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:
It could put us back into the ‘dark ages’ of almost the pre-satellite era. It would be extremely short sighted...  We live on planet Earth and there is much to discover, and it is essential to track and monitor many things from space.  Information on planet Earth and its atmosphere and oceans is essential for our way of life.  Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential.
Interesting that all of this is taking place during a year when there has been record heat and drought and a record low in the Arctic sea ice.  Interesting, too, that the military industrial complex has no problems whatsoever in accepting this "politicized science;" this summer a top military advisory board stated that climate change was a "threat to national security" and that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report was a "clarion call to action."

So there you have it.  Another reason for weeping into your coffee, at least if you have respect for science and give a damn about the long-term habitability of the Earth.  Me, I'm just apprehensive about what I'm going to find out when I read the news tomorrow.

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