Who among us isn’t in favor of having more science in our lives?
It’s the fashion statement of the hour for members of America’s ruling political class to claim that the scientific method should be a paramount tool used for crafting public policy.
Who, after all, could be against such a position?
Who wouldn’t want more scientific inquiry and research dollars applied to the development of wonder drugs?
Who wouldn’t want rockets launched into orbit based upon the learned principles of trajectory physics, rather than some seat of the pants hunches tossed about by amateur engineers?
Who wouldn’t want the Endangered Species Act to be guided by the best possible fieldwork and ecological analysis?
And who wouldn’t want government, in turn, to heed the opinions of real scientists in formulating its positions, rather than relying upon hired guns who often serve very different masters than the public interest?
Today, glaciers are disappearing; the once rock-hard permafrost is soupy; summers are hotter; hurricanes are more violent and frequent; and never before has there been greater overall agreement among scientists that human-caused climate change is real and accelerating.
But as some of you may have heard, the very-same Republican Congress, where leaders in both the House and Senate say they are committed to championing sound science, have set a new standard for expert witnesses.
I’m reminded of a column I penned more than a decade ago.
U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, who then—and recently—presided over the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, called novelist and TV scriptwriter Michael Crichton to share his insight.
Crichton, earlier the author of “Jurassic Park,” was invited by lawmakers like Inhofe who wanted to be convinced that climate change is a hoax, allegedly invented by environmentalists to return humanity to the stone age.
Rather than actually listening to researchers who have spent their careers studying climatological data, and submitting their conclusions to peer review and scrutiny, Inhofe summoned forth Crichton to give us his two cents.
It might be worth revealing here that Inhofe—who hails from a state that has benefited mightily from oil drilling—said famously that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people.
You may wonder: What is one of the senator’s favorite books and, which one did he pass out to fellow Republicans on his committee as essential reading this past summer?
It was Crichton’s fictional thriller, “State of Fear,” which made the author a darling of Rush Limbaugh for asserting that, despite what most of the world’s leading scientists say, concern about climate change is overblown. Crichton dismissed as propaganda the idea that coal smokestacks and motorists were loading unnaturally high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
What accountability did Crichton have when he was proven wrong? None, except, of course, that testifying on Capitol Hill, with “State of Fear” being waved around like a Bible in the hands of a creationist, can’t be bad for book sales.
But is setting public policy, based upon the untested opinions of a celebrity-seeking fiction writer, good for those who may bear the consequences of misguided governance—particularly politicians like Inhofe who have turned scientific knowledge into a farce?
What’s next? Perhaps enlisting Stephen King, who wrote a horror classic about a car with a mind of its own, to show up in the Senate chambers and help our elected officials establish new auto fuel efficiency standards?
I heard it expressed recently that there is as much evidence documenting the existence of accelerated, human-induced global warming as there was 30 years ago in showing the connection between cigarette smoking and cancer.
The only difference is that the energy industry, now being heavily subsidized by taxpayers despite consumers paying record prices for the commodities, is twice as politically powerful as the tobacco industry yet is even better at beating the drum of denial.
Calling Crichton to testify was sham enough, but at this same moment—as we give the oil, gas and coal industries billions of dollars worth of tax incentives to earn record profits—federally-funded science and research programs aimed at generating real scientific perspective are being trimmed back or gutted in the name of “fiscal conservatism.”
If Mr. Crichton, who died in 2008, was in need of an idea for another science fiction thriller, there was one staring him in the eyes and it would have been even more relevant today. He could’ve based his plot on the real-life quest to find the last true fiscal conservative politician in the West. His hero would prove to be elusive indeed.
Todd Wilkinson, founder of Mountain Journal (mountainjournal.org), is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at mangelsen.com/grizzly. His feature on the delisting of Greater Yellowstone grizzlies appears in the winter 2018 issue of Mountain Outlaw and is now on newsstands.