In my household, there are a few simple rules of political discourse that I teach my children: if you don’t have a uterus, you don’t get to have an opinion on what to do with them. You don’t get to negate the experiences of people of color with racism just because you don’t notice it. You always err on the side of social justice.
Most importantly? You don’t get to ‘believe’ or have an opinion about science because science exists without us. SCIENCE JUST IS.
At a recent candidates forum, I almost jumped out of my seat. The nice woman from the League of Women Voters read out a question to the two candidates running for district 2.
“What are your thoughts on climate change?” Now in my mind, that question is kind of idiotic in 2016—it had relevance when non-corporate scientists were figuring out the role of the human in environmental degradation—in the 1970s. I realize we’ve been behind to the curve of our European counterparts on all things related to the environment for decades. When I lived in Germany in the 1980s we were expected to bring our own bags to the grocery markets and in 2016 California—the usual lead state on all things environmental and scientific—is just getting around to banning bags now.
The question at the candidates’ forum, needless to say, irked me. But what sent me over the edge were the responses that clearly denied the existence of science.
“The jury is still out on that,” said one candidate. No. There’s no jury. There’s just science. And science isn’t “out on that.” Ninety-eight percent of world scientists have been observing and collecting data on this. We are chronicling the extinction of flora, fauna, and countries now.
Look, I love gin martinis almost as much as I like to pretend I’m serious about losing weight. Science has proven however, that hard liquor isn’t good for you and that vodka has the lowest glycemic index. I don’t pontificate at bars about the jury being out on gin. I don’t deny the science that tells us vodka will be my better weight watcher point bet either. I’m sure somewhere my beloved Bombay Sapphire has hired a quack to come up with different results. That’s not science. That’s marketing. I just suck it up and acknowledge my personal responsibility in my own demise (something politicians like to wax philosophical on) and drink my gin.
I recognize that people get emotional and irrational—that after all is what belief is about. We smoke cigarettes knowing they can kill us. We eat dairy products knowing pretty much the same thing. We make choices based on habits, addictions, and emotion even with the knowledge that science gives us.
I’m sitting here drinking coffee with half and half when science suggests I should be exercising to wake up instead. I’m not going to deny myself my coffee and I nod my head to the science that’s telling me my early morning response? Ain’t doing nothing good for me. I’m a big enough person (pun intended) that I’m not going to deny the science just because my early morning habit doesn’t match it.
I don’t have a scientific answer for how we as a country, state, county, community, came to see science as a belief, came to see it as some sort of detriment to our lives. We clearly don’t value it as a society—otherwise our science teachers and researchers would be making bank instead of administrators and athletes.
It didn’t occur to me to ask about climate change as a litmus test of whether our potential elected officials acknowledge the existence of science or not. But I’m glad it was asked.
Back in the early 90s, I worked with the Green Party of California. I wrote various press releases here and there about our positions on various environmental and social issues according to our platform of ten key values. Science to back us up was always in the footnotes.
Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice to all candidates.
If someone asks you your thoughts on climate change, this is how you answer:
“As we make decisions, climate change and the science behind it must inform those decisions. The decisions we make today in regards to how we operate and do day to day business and plan for the future are framed and will be framed with this reality in mind.”
That’s the only way you’ll get my vote. –Maggie Wells, daughter of a scientist.