The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Science Saturday

At the risk of sounding terribly preachy, I thought I'd share some thoughts on how the current administration-- and their fundamentalist bedmates-- are dealing with science on a variety of issues.

We're all familiar with evolution vs. creationsim. I've written about this before. Rather than argue a point that is pretty much universally accepted by scientists, and opposed only by a small percentage of reactionary preachers and a fervent minority of Christians, I thought I'd direct anyone interested to the book "Summer for the Gods," a Pulitzer prize-winning account of the Scopes "Monkey Trial." It's of interest not only for the origin of the debate between science and religion, but for the way in which the issue was demagogued by both sides. Also, it provides an illuminating window into the origin of the conflict in America a la "framing the debate"-- especially peculiar considering fundamentalist William Jennings Bryant was also a staunch advocate of labor rights and militantly opposed to a corporate state. In short, he was a committed New Testament Christian. He defended his faith, and he defended the common man. Hopefully those are the individuals we can count on in the struggle against theocratically-minded Christians. I suspect that the issue has become such a touchstone for American fundamentalists because of its inherent "Us vs. Them" mentality. Eggheads are mounting an assault on religion, etc. What it boils down to is that evolution is based upon more than a century of scientific observation of the world around us-- and a small number of Christians oppose that concept. The simple fact is that science and religion aren't at odds. They don't even have anything to do with one another-- it comes down to observation vs. faith. Two entirely different concepts.

Global warming is an issue that's received strange coverage over the last decade or so. The concensus among scientists is so overwhelmingly in support of the contention that human activity has affected global climate that I honestly don't feel compelled to provide links. Maybe we'll get lucky and the far right will start to denounce science as a 'liberal conspiracy,' since a persecuted minority of GOP-funded hacks are willing to go on the record denouncing the observations of 95% of the scientific community.

Stem cell research could be the wedgiest of wedge issues. In spite of the fact that these are unfertilized eggs that will otherwise be-- literally-- thrown in the trash, the "pro-life" crowd howls about the sanctity of life, although they believe it to begin at conception. Although I can't back this up with a hard source, I read in The New Republic about five years ago that some 35% (if memory serves) of fertilized eggs spontaneously abort within a few weeks of conception. Call it 'murder by chance' if you like. The fact remains that the religious right is working feverishly against scientific research that could save lives using cells that don't fight within their own definition of sentience or life.

Bush has had an on-again, off-again affair with the idea of a manned mission to Mars. Mostly off, since every time he mentions it, the public is largely opposed to the idea. That might be due to common sense concerns, rather than a carefully considered look at the actual science involved in such a mission, but people certainly have the right idea. It would cost tens, if not hundreds, of billions at a time when we are already slashing programs designed to help Americans live day-to-day. And the scientific concensus, again, is that there's no point in undertaking the endeavor at this point. Consider this fact alone: we currently have two robotic rovers on the surface of Mars that have functioned well beyond their expected lifespan. They are collecting and relaying scientific data on a regular basis and have done so for well over a year, returning images with a much higher resolution than that of the human eye.. A human expedition couldn't improve upon this state of affairs, and would involve a much higher financial cost, in addition to risking human lives.

An issue that is beginning to concern not just conservationists, but hawkish Republicans, is America's continuing dependence on oil. Which I hear costs a lot these days. In spite of the fact that oil is an unsustainable resource, and that its further consumption involves continued complicity with totalitarian regimes in the Middle East, one would expect that the administration would promote an agenda that works toward weaning America away from increased consumption of oil. Nevertheless, the tax credit for American citizens who buy fuel-efficient hybrid cars is expiring, while the credit for those who purchase Humvees will continue. The legislative branch continually rejects any increase in fuel efficiency standards, thanks to intense lobbying efforts by the automotive industry. Naturally, if an auto manufacturer produced a car that was fuel efficient, they'd stand to make a killing, just like Honda and Toyota, which were the first companies to produce hybrid vehicles.

On this last issue, I have to admit that I was inspired by a phrase that Al Franken used. He called for "an Appolo project on renewable fuels." Elegant, simple, and cheap. It encourages young Americans to pursue the sciences, its goal benefits the well-being of the planet, and it has the romantic, pioneering sound of a truly worthy mission. Which, of course, it is.

I haven't provided a single link in this story. In a sense, that's because the scientific and economic data is so overwhelmingly obvious that I consider it irrelevant. And that's the first time I've made such an assertion on this site. Also, as I look back over the post, it's the preachiest entry on the blog to date. I apologize for that. At some point in the near future, I'll make an effort to investigate each of these issues more thoroughly, and provide documentation.