Thursday, December 4, 2008

Turning a blind eye to science

Andrew Revkin writes about the decline in science coverage by major news outlets:
"Newspaper coverage of science outside of health and wellness is steadily eroding. Even here at The Times, where the Science Times section celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003 and management has always supported strong science coverage, we (like everyone in print media) are doing ever more with less. At CNN, among those leaving will be Peter Dykstra, a seasoned producer focused on science and the environment, and Miles O’Brien, a longtime CNN reporter and former morning news anchor, who I got to know when he turned to climate coverage in a big way several years ago. (See his spicy interview with Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who challenges dire climate projections.)"
This is an important time for science in America. More and more we are facing an ideological struggle over the role of science and rationalism in society. In this clip from the "Big Think", Princeton geneticist Bonnie Bassler laments the fact that our culture has become weary, or even fearful of science:

We cannot forget that science is more than simply a collection of facts and figures. Science is a framework for understanding our world, for expanding knowledge and understanding. Science is what allows us to move forward. As Olivia Judson notes, science also provides a level-playing field for sharing ideas:
"...the beauty of the scientific approach is that even when individuals do succumb to bias or partiality, others can correct them using a framework of evidence that everyone broadly agrees on. (Admittedly, this can sometimes be a slow process.) But arguing over data is different from suppressing it. Or changing it. Or ignoring it. For these activities debase the whole enterprise and threaten its credibility. When data can’t be accessed or trusted, when “facts” are actually illusions — well, this threatens the nature of knowledge itself. And a society without knowledge is steering blind. The rubbishing of science is far more serious than any particular decision over whether to fund research into stem cells, the sexual behavior of fruit flies or the quarks and quirks of particle physics. Undoing the damage of the past eight years may take another eight. But it must be done. We are probably one of the last generations that will be able to use our knowledge and methods to guide human civilization to a sustainable future. This is our time."

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