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Perspective: It’s Not a War on Science

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Issues in Science and Technology Volume XXXIII Issue 3, Spring 2017
by

…Science is, for today’s conservatives, an instrument of federal power. They attack science’s forms of truth-making, its databases, and its budgets not out of a rejection of either science or truth, but as part of a coherent strategy to weaken the power of the federal agencies that rely on them….Over the course of the twentieth century, the prominence of experts in legitimizing federal government power have persisted and deepened. ..

…Given this history, it should hardly surprise us that the major environmental controversy of the past quarter-century has largely played out as a battle over science. Climate change is a phenomenon knowable only through science…

…It is not an accident that “experts” have become the enemy of those who feel left behind in the United States and Europe. The twentieth century’s most powerful forms of government have been built on the backs of experts. When that trend began, experts provided a powerful service for democratic publics, helping to create new government agencies that could balance the power of the massive new business organizations created by industrialization. Science and expertise created the appearance of taking issues out of the realms of politics and onto more neutral terrain. The recognition that this was largely illusion—and that politics remained central to the exercise of science-based government—took a while to register. Today is a different world. Authorized and powered by science, data, and expertise, the US federal government is now arguably the most powerful institution on the planet….

…Science, business, and government have together made the modern world what it is. All three must step up to ensure that future societies are worth inhabiting—and they must do so in concert with global publics. None of the three can any longer pretend that they stand outside politics. Democracy depends on it. So does the future our children will inherit.

 

 

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