Opinion piece by Samuel Strait – May 13, 2016 – As I read various bits and pieces in books, newspapers and magazines supported by “Science”, watch the same thing on TV , and most of all see the same sort of “Science” repeated endlessly over the internet, I often have to cringe at the almost religious intensity that activists use the phrase, “the science is settled”. Having spent many years in a number of real laboratories engaged in Science, I cannot recall a time when that phrase was ever used. Fast forward twenty five years and it has become almost common place. But who exactly is using that terminology to describe science? And how is it used?
It seems that it is most commonly used in instances where the science is controversial or in some ways disputed and has caught the attention of a group of activists. It is also very likely to be used in instances where the results haven’t occurred yet or are not consistently repeatable inorder to stiffle opposition. There is generally an advocacy either through funding connected to our government, or some special interest that requires a certain outcome. It is used against a targeted behavior that somehow offends a small group of people. And finally, much of that “Science” is based on speculation based on a fairly limited set of data points. Current weather, Global Warming and Climate Change are the most obvious places that I see this phrase used when trying to connect various phenomenon to human activity as the causal factor in the equation.
Locally we see this behavior most often in the writings and utterances of our Environmental Community in the form of Friends of Del Norte, Smith River Alliance, and others. Letters to the Editor in our local Advocacy Paper, the Triplicate, or Coastal Voices pieces are littered with pseudo science and speculative science in order to hammer home various extreme positions on Del Norte’s “fragile” environment. An opportunity for Don Gillespe, Eileen Cooper, and others to lecture the community on potential environmental disasters to come are not to be missed. In the course of this kind of behavior, the science becomes much less rigorous and often as not, emotions take its place. This has caused a growing problem in many communities where there is little to combat the “expertise” of science that has become the proverbial “club” to insure a certain kind of behavior. It has become such an egregious problem with government sponsored science, that the federal government has had to employ people to check the legitimacy of that “science,” a sad state of affairs. On the local front this came into play with the dam removal proposal on the Klamath, where the “settled science” was called into question as the data was found to be overstated. It is unfortunate that our state level politicians and the Department of the Interior have chosen to brush that aside. In a world where things can be difficult on the surface, it is sad to see science being abused on such a increasingly regular basis. Advocacy has its place in the world to right various wrongs, but it does not have that same kind of place if the science really is not settled.