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.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The hydra of horrible ideas

For today's post, we will focus our attention on a Skeptophilia frequent flyer -- Representative Lamar Smith, who is narrowly edged out by Senator Mitch McConnell as the world's most punchable face.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Smith is in the news this week because of his appearance as a keynote speaker at the 12th annual conference of the Heartland Institute, a petroleum-industry-funded "think tank" dedicated to casting doubt on climate change science.  Smith has been unrelenting in his attacks on the scientific community, which makes it even more appalling that he has since 2013 been the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, a committee that also includes not only the virulently anti-science Dana Rohrabacher but Bill Posey of Florida, who believes that vaccines cause autism.

So the governmental oversight of scientific research in the United States falls clearly into the category of "heaven help us."  There's no doubt that Smith is in the pocket of the fossil fuels industry; they are far and away his largest donors, having funded his campaigns to the tune of $600,000.

And no one can say the industry isn't getting what they paid for.  Smith's talk at the Heartland Institute was fairly crowing with delight over the opportunity they have to completely gut any environmental legislation they want, given the appointment by the Trump administration of anti-environmental climate change deniers to damn near every leadership post in Washington.  "I think the president has ushered in a permanent change in the political climate," Smith said, to cheers from the audience.  "And by that I mean I think he’ll keep his promises and that he’ll do exactly what he said.  You’re seeing that in his appointments, like Scott Pruitt at EPA, for example.  So … I don’t think you’ll have any disappointment on any of those issues."

When an audience member suggested that Smith stop using the term "climate science" in favor of "climate studies" and "scientific research" in favor of "politically correct science," Smith agreed with a grin, and said he'd go a step further.  "I’ll start using those words if you’ll start using two words for me," Smith said.  "The first is never, ever use the word progressive.  Instead, use the word liberal.  The second is never use the word 'mainstream' media, because they aren’t.  Use 'liberal' media. Is that a deal?"

More cheers.

Most alarmingly, Smith said he's planning on increasing the pressure on research scientists to publish only results that support the goals of his political backers.  In fact, he spoke at length about his plans to craft legislation to punish federally-funded researchers who publish data that contradicts the party line -- in other words, that doesn't meet his warped concept of peer review, which means essentially having to pass a governmentally-set purity test.  To hell with what the evidence says; science becomes whatever the conservative agenda says it is.

The timing of this meeting is not without irony.  Just this week, research was published in Nature that the amount of warming we've already seen is leading to "devastating" bleaching of coral reefs; that climate change is enhancing the conditions that lead to life-threatening "smog events" in Beijing and elsewhere; that the winter of 2016-2017 showed "exceptional... periods of record-breaking heat" in the Arctic; and that last month was the second warmest February in the 139 years such records have been kept -- the warmest was February 2016.

But to Smith and his cronies, none of that matters.  It's all "politically correct climate studies."

All of this illustrates one rather sobering fact; for those of us on the left-ish side of things who breathed a sigh of relief when Paul Ryan's disaster of a health care bill died on the floor of the House last week, the fight is far from over.  This administration is proving to be a hydra of horrible ideas.  Destroy one of them, and two more appear in its place.

And this time, one of the hydra's heads is wearing the smarmy, smirking face of Lamar Smith, which is a mental image that will haunt my nightmares for some time to come.

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