Why Politicians Need Science

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tags: science relevant to history



Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a presidential fellow at Chapman University. His new book, on which this article is based, is "The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom" (Henry Holt, 2015). 

Sen. Ted Cruz, who recently announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential ticket, thinks, like many conservatives, global warming isn’t happening. As he said on Seth Meyers’ talk show on March 16, “Satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years there’s been zero warming, none whatsoever.”

It’s no surprise that Cruz picked that figure: 17 years ago was 1998, an “El Nino” year, when global temperatures were artificially elevated after which they returned to their normal gradually increasing rate. When you look at all the data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (not just the cherry-picked data that fits neatly into a political ideology), the long-term increase in global temperatures is unmistakable.

I’m not saying that liberals don’t have their own science problem. They have no trouble railing against GMOs and nuclear power, and they ignore the obvious benefits of fossil fuels to pull impoverished people into the age of prosperity (burning cow pies in makeshift fireplaces in mud huts is not an efficient means of heating homes or producing wealth). Don’t even get me started on “anti-vaxxers,” a vocal and determined group that seems to make up a small minority in both parties.

The Founding Fathers would be ashamed.

Three centuries after the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment gave birth to the principles that drove the American Revolution, we are forgetting that it is scientific facts that should settle such issues, not partisan politics. In these examples the data are quite clear and the jury is in: Global warming is real and humans caused it, GMOs are safe and we need all the sources of energy we can get to meet the demands of our ever-increasing population. Why, then, are we so politically divided on these points? It seems that, in our rush to find support for what we want to be true (it’s an effect called “motivated reasoning,” which is driven by the confirmation bias in which we seek and find confirming evidence for what we already believe and ignore or rationalize away disconfirming evidence), we have forgotten how to discern what actually is true. We’ve forgotten how to use science and reason to solve problems and instead we’ve turned to moralizing about scientific issues. ...







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