Tuesday, August 09, 2016

A Republican War On Science-- Whether Denying Climate Change Or The Zika Danger-- Is Actually A War On America


For nearly a decade now, the Republican Party in the House thought it would be funny to appoint anti-Science neanderthals to the House Science Committee. Boehner-- and now Ryan-- rush to put all the silliest morons who dumbbell voters send to the House onto the Committee, imbeciles and Science deniers like Mo Brooks (AL), Warren Davidson (OH), Barry Loudermilk (GA), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Steve Knight (CA), Brian Babin (TX), Bill Posey (FL)--the Obama-must-provide-his-birth-certificate guy who authored H.R. 5801, a bill to privatize asteroids for the mining companies-- Bruce Western (AR), Randy Weber (TX), GaryPalmer (AL), Ralph Abraham (LA), Barbara Comstock (VA), etc. When people say the GOP is the "stupid party," they routinely point to the House Science Committee as evidence. And the chairman-- someone who doesn't believe in Climate Change and who saw no need to vote to fund President Obama's proposals to combat the Zika Virus before is struck the U.S.-- is Texas blockhead Lamar Smith.

Fortunately, 2016 could finally be the year when an actual science believer knocks out ole Lamar. Tom Wakely is running a surprisingly strong grassroots campaign, despite a lack of support from the DCCC. This morning he told us that he's "spoken to several scientists over the course of this campaign, and they're all rightfully frustrated that we've come to a point where we're faced with the choice to 'believe' in science. We've seemingly exhausted or co-opted everything imaginable to become a political issue. Now these politicians have their sights set on the last bastion of objectivity. We're starting to reject the science that doesn't fit our ideology or narrative and we run the risk of becoming catastrophically regressive. This nation once held the belief that numbers, data, and the scientific method had no bias. If you didn't like the science, you could work the rest of your life to disprove it. These days, politicians work to convince their sector of the public that they know more than the experts. It's certainly disheartening, but it's not too late to fix it. My opponent, Lamar Smith, is now the tip of the iceberg of denial. He refuses to accept the reality facing us and does far more than turn a blind eye. He substitutes his own reality. One where the oil companies are eternal victims and where the scientists of our community are part of some liberal cabal hellbent on ruining society. There are a lot of aspects of Lamar Smith's job performance that I find particularly disqualifying, but his outright rejection of the objective and his harassment of those who are simply performing research rank damn near the top." Please consider helping Tom replace Lamar Smith in Texas by contributing to his campaign here.

Harold Feld is a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, which promotes freedom of expression, an open Internet, access to affordable communications tools and creative works and works to shape policy on behalf of the public interest. Recently, in a previously unpublished essay, Feld asked a simple and straight-forward question: What do we mean to believe in science?
This is becoming a very significant issue for progressives. And not simply in the hard sciences, but the social sciences as well.

Hard science and social science have always been critically important to advancing progressive policies. By contrast, we have pointed to the failure of science and pseudo-science as supporting racist policies, misogyny, or advancing pro-industrial policies. The environmental movement provides many examples where hard science was dismissed time and again until the weight of real scientific evidence became overwhelming. The same with consumer protection for carcinogens. And everyone should remember the value of the "Clark Experiment" as applied social science in Brown v. Board of education. By contrast, social theories justified with little evidence such as "broken windows policing" have caused immeasurable harm until debunked and disproven by rigorous social science research.

Which is why I am becoming very concerned that legitimate suspicion of self-interested research or agency capture is morphing in some cases to objection without substance.

Lamar Smith, Anti-Science Committee Chairman

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the field which causes the most concern for me on this is the deployment of wireless and new technologies. New technologies are an area where there is often a group of people who naturally reject them as dangerous and disruptive and a group of people who embrace them as wonderfully disruptive. Computers in classrooms and education, the impact of ubiquitous WiFi or other wireless technologies, naturally have had both advocates and skeptics.

But this is where science comes in. The properties of electromagnetic waves are reasonably well understood, if complicated sometimes to predict. So if we are asking a question "how do we know what prolonged exposure to radio frequency energy at certain power levels does?"

It's a fair question. We can start with what we know about the existing physics and biology. We can ask based on this knowledge what we might think would be potential negative impacts. We can run tests on these. We can also look over the long term to see if there appears to be some kind of correlation that cannot be explained by other means. We can test these statistical correlations in a variety of ways.

If the answer comes up with a set of conditions under which operation looks safe-- and not just "plausibly safe" but actually safe as in we don't see any evidence of a correlation with negative health effects-- then what?

If we believe in science, we go forward with deployment.

It's important to realize this isn't just about money, or toys, or other things that people who don't use this stuff understand every day. It's about life saving technologies in hospitals and elsewhere. It's about hearing aids that use Bluetooth. It's about creating economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities by providing access to affordable connectivity. It's about allowing communities to express themselves in their own voices. It's about being able to record what happens on the streets with a cell phone and have the ability to upload these images in realtime-- whether by licensed wireless or WiFi. It's about getting technology in schools so Girls Can Code and people of color can have access to the tools they need at an early enough age to feel as comfortable and at ease with them as wealthier or whiter communities. Not deploying these technologies, and not making them available to children where appropriate, has huge social cost, economic cost, and cost in lives.

Yes, there are lots of worries, and lots of pitfalls. There are lots of concerns about how these things are being implemented, and who benefits. We need to look at corporate generosity with enlightened skepticism, and know the right questions to ask about whether particular agendas are being furthered through deployment.

But we also need to remember we could not have had Ferguson without a ubiquitous wireless network. If we had simply decided not to trust the science on wireless saftey because Verizon and AT&T have economic interests and therefore we can't trust the FCC to do its job and therefore we can't really *know* if it is safe to deploy wireless technologies, then we would never had had all the very real social benefits that flow from the deployment of these technologies.

So we need to ask ourselves about the roll of progressives in fostering proper use of science and social science for a fair and just society. We cannot simply be suspects and nay sayers because of our skepticism about industry agendas and the possibility of government capture. We must be willing to address studies on the merits, to *show* where bad science or bad social science is leading to a bad set of policies. We need to do things like hold up the implicit (and explicit) biases in technological advances like Big Data. We need to ask hard questions about GMOs.

But if we *believe* in science, we can't just reject it when it conflicts with those things we find intuitively credible or where it fails to substantiate our suspicions and fears. As progressives, we need to be willing to hold other progressives accountable for baseless fear mongering and pseudo-science as we are critical of conservatives when they play similar games, or when they refuse to confront the scientific consensus.

I am deeply worried when we refuse to hold ourselves and others to these standards simply because the targets are major corporations and agencies that are often captured. If the science is really wrong, we can and should show it.

I do not want the Democratic Party to claim the mantle of "belief in science," and then use bad science to advance pro-corporate policies. I want progressives to embrace the mantle of believing in science, and modeling that behavior.
Tom Wakely, our aforementioned candidate from San Antonio (TX-21) running against House Science Chairman Smith added that "If enough objective data is presented to show I have nothing to fear-- I'd accept it. Science should have no political bias. That's how science works. It's what took us to the Moon and beyond. It's what ended epidemic after epidemic. As Republicans look to politicize Zika after refusing to adequately fund it (even according to Marco Rubio), I hope the country is able to look inward at the stranglehold some lobbyists and corporations have over our political process. Restoring scientific objectivity is paramount to our progress. We could accomplish so much together if we were all able to realize this. I'm up against the bought and sold. I'm fighting to restore progress."

And speaking of Rubio, on Saturday, sweaty little Marco started short circuiting again when asked about pregnant women's right to choice when they are infected with Zika, which, as everyone already knows, causes severe birth defects. "I understand a lot of people disagree with my view, but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws. And when you present it in the context of Zika or any prenatal condition, it’s a difficult question and a hard one. But if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life... Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties. So I get it. I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me. But I’m pro life. And I’m strongly pro life. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life." He didn't say whether or not he also believes in Florida Governor Rick Scott slashing mosquito control funds by 40%.

If Rubio knows nothing at all about science or the scientific method, Florida has one of the world experts on virology running for Congress in Orlando, Dr. Dena Grayson. A progressive with both an MD and a Ph.D, she treated uninsured patients for free for nearly a decade, and she has spent years researching cures for deadly diseases, such as cancer, Ebola and Zika virus. If elected, Dr. Grayson would be the first ever M.D./Ph.d. to serve in Congress. She's considered an accomplished physician and medical researcher" and "one of the leading experts on viruses.” Her research on viruses has been published in some of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, including Nature.

"Health experts," she told us this morning, "have been warning us for months that it’s not 'if, it’s when' we would see the first case of a person infected by a mosquito in the U.S. We are literally in a race against time, and thanks to the utter aversion of science-phobic Republicans to spend money on anything other than walls, weapons, or war, our efforts to combat Zika virus are falling behind." She wants Central Florida residents to remember that since the Obama administration’s first request for funding-- and its rejection by House Republicans-- early this year, at least 15 babies have been born with devastating and irreversible brain damage, and 479 pregnant women in the U.S. have been infected with Zika virus. "Republicans," she said, "prefer to play petty politics and the blame game, rather than acknowledge the cold, hard facts that are staring them right in the face... The ongoing Zika virus outbreak has been unfolding since early this year in the U.S., and and even earlier than that in Central and South America. Democrats, of course, embrace science and quickly recognized the threat to public health. Back in February, the Obama administration asked Congress to approve $1.9 billion in funding to combat Zika virus. Republicans, in predictable fashion, balked at spending money on anything science-based. Since then, over 1,800 cases of Zika virus have been diagnosed in the U.S., but because 80% of infected individuals don't ever show symptoms, the actual number of people with Zika is likely closer to 7,200, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)... Ominously, starting in late July, Zika virus is now being spread by mosquitoes in Florida, with at least 17 cases of 'mosquito-borne' infection already confirmed."

Like her husband, Alan Grayson, as well as Dr. Alina Valdes, Tim Canova and the other candidates you're find by clicking on the thermometer below, Dena is dedicated to bringing the Republicans along on public health threats so that they have a better understanding of the impact on real human beings of their ideological votes.
Goal Thermometer

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home