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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Who needs science when you have ideology?

    Sam Feldmancolumnist
    Sam Feldman
    columnist

    Today are the midterm elections, when Congress and other elected officials around the country are judged based on their past performance, at best, and their campaign strategies, at worst. It’s democracy, though, and it works. Or so one would hope.

    But what our democracy misses, at times, is academics. And it appears now that our politicians are ignoring serious academic studies at the cost of millions of dollars, the destruction of our environment and the health and welfare of Americans.

    Let’s take a political example to start: Global warming. Nearly every scientist in fields related to climate and geology believes that global warming is happening and is being caused primarily by human activity. Though the political community may not be in consensus, the scientific community is.

    A December 2004 essay in the highly respected journal Science analyzed 928 abstracts of scientific papers on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003. The author, Naomi Oreskes, did not find a single research paper that rejected the scientific consensus that human activity has contributed to global climate change.

    Our leaders
    decided, once again, that science and academia must be wrong when they are so convinced that they are right.

    Or how about the Bush administration’s own report in 2002 supporting the scientific consensus? He dismissed the report and said he still did not support the Kyoto Protocols, which mandated that countries in the United Nations reduce their carbon-emissions output.

    But instead of listening to fact and science, President Bush listens to Michael Crichton when making policy decisions. In 2005, he called Crichton to his office for an hour-long discussion on global warming and Crichton’s book, “”State of Fear,”” which claims global warming is an unproven theory.

    When faced with the science of global warming, Bush would rather listen to a science fiction writer than a major journal or his own administration. You can almost hear Bush saying, “”Science be damned, fact is what fits into with my viewpoint!””

    But this overtly political case is not the only example of science being ignored. In August, the General Accounting Office, the research wing of Congress, said that the TV, radio and print ads aimed at reducing illegal drug use among teens had failed.

    Their $42 million study was contracted to an outside firm, Westat Inc., and the University of Pennsylvania. They found parents and youth both remembered the ads’ messages, but that youth were not affected by the messages.

    The report suggested that there is no link between the eight-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug ad campaign and the reduction in drug use. It attributed the drop to fewer high school dropouts and other factors. But the report did find one change in attitude: The ads could be interpreted by youth to show that marijuana use is more common than it actually is.

    Wait. What? The campaign was effective in one area…in showing teens that drug use was common. So the ad campaign didn’t reduce drug use and may have actually made drug use more common.

    If leaders in Congress were rational and faced with this evidence, the logical next step would be to stop funding for the ads that could, in fact, increase drug use. Maybe then Congress could work to build a comprehensive strategy to fight illegal drug use.

    If that’s the logical answer, than the government’s solution in the face of bad news is to deny, deny, deny. Members of Congress and our drug czar John Walters decided the best idea was to question the merits of the study. Bush’s response was to increase the 2007 budget for the campaign by 20 percent.

    Our leaders decided, once again, that science must be wrong when they are so convinced that they are right. Why? Because their personal belief prevails over what any study can measure. Again, political arrogance overrides science and academics.

    These two examples are among many where Congress has either outright rejected science or ignored academic findings. How about Bush’s “”healthy forests”” initiative, which actually advocated that deforesting was good for forests? Or stem cell research?

    Ignoring science is at the peril of our national wallet and the environment in which our children will live.

    Forget about a war on terror – Congress has declared a war on science, seeking to replace serious academics with their own brand of ideological “”fact.”” And if the idea of blatant misrepresentation of fact makes you sick, then I hope the candidates we elect today will be more inclined to read science than science fiction.

    Sam Feldman is a junior majoring in political science and Spanish. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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