Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ending the War on Reality: Science with a Dash of Wisdom

The process of coming together around fact based reality demands some basis of shared understanding. We need to forge common ground that lends itself to meaningful action. We need to counter a world in which facts are eschewed and reality is manipulated for partisan political purposes. When combined with wisdom, science is capable of exposing the spin in false narratives.

We cannot address the war on reality without acknowledged the efforts of it leading proponent. US President Donald Trump is at war with science his budget makes this point abundantly clear as does his administration's efforts to censor and bury research. This is a president who said of his own government's climate report, "I don’t believe it".

The front lines of this war are being drawn at the departmental level. Both Interior and the EPA have waged successful crusades against science.  Former administrator Scott Pruitt waged war against EPA science, purging scientists as he dismantled regulations. Trump is not the only world leader that undermines science and hates fact based journalism. Corrupt leaders are of necessity at war with truth as they lie to lend an aura of legitimacy to their rule.

However, science is not so easily killed. A fifteen person Scientific Advisory Committee disbanded by Trump has reconstituted itself to issue an urgent warning about climate change. The importance of science cannot be overstated. The general public needs facts to make good decisions both in their lives and at the ballot box. 

Failure to question the basis for discerning truth from falsehood is a sure way to hold factually incorrect views. Disregarding facts born out by the proper application of reason and the scientific method are a danger to civil society.

According to research published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour people that know the least, think they know the most. So the irony is that those most in need of the facts are the least receptive to them. The study's authors conclude that people need to be made aware of how little they know. Philip Fernbach the lead author of the study hypothesizes that when it comes to climate change denial people have adopted the viewpoint of their ideological affiliations.  If we are entrenched in our silos we are impervious to learning. We are facing an existential crisis and our resistance to learning will augur our death.

Climate change is the most serious health threat we face according to a study titled, The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change. This research concluded: "A rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extremes of weather, altering patterns of infectious disease, and compromising food security, safe drinking water and clean air." A World Health Organization report, released at COP24 found that at least seven million people a year die prematurely because of pollution, and millions more become ill.

Science has never been more necessary than it is today yet is has never been more unpopular. Rather than being the basis of our efforts to minimize biodiversity loss and combat climate change, science is being demonized by some. There is some reason for this distrust. Science is not a panacea and it is deliberately amoral, it gives us provisional facts but what we do with them is up to us. As explained by Will Durant in his book, "The Story of Philosophy" we need wisdom to help us apply the insights derived from science. 

"Science tells us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate in retail an then kills us wholesale in war; only wisdom — desire coordinated in the light of all experiences — can tell us when to heal and when to kill...it is not complete except in relation to a purpose and a whole. Science without philosophy, facts without perspective and valuation, cannot save us from havoc and despair. Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom."

Wisdom is sorely lacking in our world today and this is by design. Many do not realize that science is a bulwark against the lies that divide us. Science can be a common language that in consort with wisdom can bridge the divides that separate us.   

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