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Science, Curiosity and the 2008 Vote

by Henry Miller
Statesman Journal, November 6, 2008

It's way too early to tell what the next four years will hold. But as a scientist by training and a skeptic by nature, Tuesday's election left me with a sense of relief.

There has been a palpable sense the past eight years that facts really didn't matter if they contradicted a premise or posed a threat to a belief.

You have to wonder how many highly qualified, top-flight researchers and academics fled public service because some bureaucrat sliced and diced their findings, or just excised them from reports and analysis because those did not fit the worldview of those at the top.

Scientific validation is not an article of faith. Peer review is not a popularity contest.

The phrase that comes to mind is that you can't repeal the law of gravity, even if the vote is unanimous and the president's willing to sign it when it hits his desk.

On a range of contentious topics from allocation of Klamath River water and the effect on salmon runs to grazing, mining, drilling and global climate change, we never really had a serious debate.

Because you can't have a realistic discussion about costs, benefits and consequences — social, economic and environmental — unless you're willing to own up to the facts and findings..

For the past eight years, everybody at the top had all the answers.

So they never bothered to ask the questions.

And when others did, they either ignored what they didn't want to hear, or dug a hole and buried the answers.

At this point you're probably thinking that it's a liberal/conservative split or a case of Bush-bashing.

But the results of scientific research don't recognize political affiliations.

Just ask anyone from the animal rights community about their feelings on the scientific findings on California sea lion predation on federally protected Columbia River salmon and native sturgeon stocks.

One of my first experiments in a college dealt with a research question for which anyone who ever mowed lawns for money in high school knows the answer.

Does cutting the grass make it grow?

Turns out it does.

My conclusion was that it has to do with more sunlight getting in when the top is clipped.

As I said, I don't know what the next four years holds.

But there's a sense that the president-elect is someone who would be intrigued about knowing whether mowing the lawn encourages grass to grow.

I already know that the guy who's leaving would never think to ask.

Either because he's sure he knows. Or he doesn't want to know.

TimPfau wrote: I did enough hunting to learn to hate it myself but I would skip the sudoku before I missed Henry's perspectives.

There really isn't anything politically progressive about valuing science at all. It says a lot about the sad state of Conservative thought in America that rational thought and the scientific method are thought of as being "progressive".

Better days are coming. 'night all.

laule wrote: I am normally not a fan of Henry since I hate hunting, but I do believe in preserving natural resources. I was surprised at this article and it's "Progressive" support of science and intelligent decisions for sustainable resources. It was well written and a good article. I too, have been terribly dismayed at the rejection of science in the Bush administration. It seemed as if George W. believed the Rapture would be here soon and it wouldn't matter if all the salmon die off, or we get burned up or drowned by global warming. I guess he didn't worry that his kids or their kids might have to exist in a pretty decimated world.

Unfortunately George seemed not understand that God may expect us all to take better care of our earth and all that is in it.

natbrandon78 wrote: I agree. I am so relieved that we will now have an administration and Congress that is weighted in science-guided judgement. Oregon's U.S. Senator-elect Jeff Merkley - who has promised to follow the science when it comes to restoring wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake River Basin, even if that means breaching the four outdated federal dams on the lower Snake River - is one of these new visionary leaders. I hope that we are entering into a new era that respects science, rather than suppress it for political gain.

Babsflasker6 wrote: Dear Mr. Miller..Yours is the first column I read on Thursday; it sets the tone of the day. Today's column reflects my feelings exactly and I appreciate you validating what I have been thinking these last 8 years.

Henry Miller, Columnist
Science, Curiosity and the 2008 Vote
Statesman Journal, November 6, 2008

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