By: Wolf von Baumgart, Staff Writer
Science, Government and Society:
From cosmology, ecology, biology and chemistry through elementary particle physics, science influences our lives in a myriad of ways. However, in an increasingly special interest driven and politically polarized atmosphere in what claims to be the most advanced technological nation in the world, science and its influence on public policy has more frequently come under fire from many sources.
Rally in Lewes:
Earlier today, approximately 180 people rallied in Canalfront Park in Lewes , Delaware in support of the national March for Science before boarding buses for the main march in Washington, DC.
Mayor Tom Becker, on behalf of the City of Lewes, welcomed the participants. “Here in Lewes, we strive to improve our efforts to maintain respect for the environment. We are indeed very fortunate to have our strong relationship to the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. Our ongoing collaboration with the University and the Sea Grant Program has resulted in Lewes making strides to ensure that this community is in the forefront of adapting to the climate changes that are happening all around us”, he said.
Delaware’s congressional delegation was not able to attend the event, however, the Mayor read a brief statement form Senator Tom Carper.
Dr. Jonathan Sharp, Emeritus Professor of Oceanography, University of Delaware spoke on the central theme of the march. “Science, scientists, and evidence-based policy-making are under attack. Budget cuts, censorship of researchers, disappearing datasets, and threats to dismantle government agencies harm us all, putting our health, food, air, water, climate, and jobs at risk. It is time for people who support science to take a public stand and be counted”, he stated. He called attention to the President’s drastic proposed science research budget cuts and the widespread disinterest in science on the part of general American public and he called upon members of the scientific community to better communicate their message to citizens at-large.
Other featured speakers included Michael Krausz – Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Bryn Mawr College; Rick Greer-Reynolds – Retired secondary school teacher, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) Teacher, Educational Consultant for International Baccalaureate; Matthew Oliver – Patricia and Charles Robertson Associate Professor of Marine Science and Policy, University of Delaware and Joan Mansperger – OLLI instructor on sea level rise.
The non partisan March for Science was designed to raise several important public policy issues. In an increasing special interest driven society, where immediate short-term economic interests obscure and take precedence over long-term environmental and public interest concerns. Critical decisions are too often ideologically or financially dictated contrary to the best available scientific knowledge. There is a growing knowledge gap between policy-makers and the scientific community that threatens to impair good government in the greater public interest. Notable examples cited were removal of phosphates from laundry detergents and CFCs from aerosol cans in the face of major special interest resistance.
The exact role of the scientific community in shaping public policy is itself an ongoing discussion. This was notably epitomized in the Teller-Szent Gyorgii Dispute of the 1960’s and 70s in which theoretical nuclear physicist Eduard Teller [a.k.a. “the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb”] argued that the scientific community should remain aloof from politics in the name of science itself. In constrast, physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi strongly held that scientists had a duty to advocate in the public interest to the point of proactive political participation if necessary.
It is interesting to note, that in an increasingly scientific and technological society, only one member of the US Congress, Congressman Bill Foster (D-11th Dist. IL) is a PhD level scientist.
Apparently, general public interest in science steadily declined after cessation of US manned lunar exploration and this has resulted in a major educational gap. Perhaps, a concerted national effort to land humans on Mars will spark a national scientific renaissance of sorts. Somewhat paradoxically, this is ultimately a political decision with far-reaching social and cultural consequences – one of which would necessarily be a major overhaul of our current public educational system in a more scientific and technical direction.
In summation, government works best when its political decisions and emergent laws more closely harmonize with the laws of science and economics, as ideology and special interest concerns have their limitations in the face of reality. The debate takes place in the face of major environmental, economic, social and global security problems in which intelligent public discussion and creative effort towards lasting solutions is long overdue.