Science, whether the subject of investigation is physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, agriculture, natural resources, communications, economics, climate, human interactions with each other and their environment, uses the same methodology.
This methodology is a way of learning that is based on rigorous experimental designs, data collection and analyses with the goal of developing ever better questions and answers.
The application of scientific principles through engineering and technology has led to many improvements, as we are well aware of, in our health and well-being. Basic science, primarily publicly funded, led to the technological applications that have been the primary force behind the advances, among many others, in health care, communications, agricultural productivity and environmental protection. Science is the engine that has and continues to power our economy. Just think how many of us now use computers and smart phones in our jobs and personal activities.
Do scientists make mistakes? Yes, and as humans they embody all our behaviors, both good and bad. Does research sometimes result in ambiguous and conflicting results? Again, yes. Have some of the products and byproducts of technology, such as pollution and some pharmaceuticals, been of dubious value if not downright harmful? Yet again the answer is obviously yes. But this has not been due to the scientific method. The detrimental outcomes of technology are primary because of our human frailties, greed, short-sightedness, ideologies, politics and moral and ethical lapses. The scientific enterprise itself is a self-correcting process that learns from its errors and continues to make improvements as experimental designs, measurements and analyses improve. It is primarily further scientific research that has corrected technological errors when they’ve occurred. Science only seeks to provide facts, information and knowledge. Scientific integrity is a necessity. The National Academy of Science describes scientific integrity as following ethical principles of honesty, the golden rule, trustworthiness and high regard for the scientific record. Knowingly twisting facts to suit our ideologies is antithesis to the scientific method.
Science is independent of political ideology. The laws of nature and the scientific description of them apply to all of us (think gravity as a trivial example). Just because some of its findings are inconvenient and challenge our viewpoints or beliefs does not invalidate the scientific process or its results. A cafeteria approach with picking and choosing which information to “believe in or deny” is not rational. Certainly when results are ambiguous, more and better studies are needed. Unanimous conclusions seldom occur because of the human element. If you really think you would be better off by denying scientific information and the degradation of scientists, then throw away your smart phone, disregard the advice of your physicians when at least 97 percent of their colleagues agree with them and contaminate your water and air to the levels they were before environmental regulations. To disinvest in science is, to say the least, to imperil our well-being and that of future generations.
The relationship between science and democracy must not continue to erode. I, for one and along with many others, choose not to support an impoverished future and will therefore join fellow scientists for the Science March on Earth Day, April 22 in Washington, D.C. Activities supporting these marches are being conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and many other professional science organizations. This march is not being undertaken by disgruntled individuals or organizations, but rather its participants are concerned citizens, many of whom have never previously participated in an activity like this before, because they value our way of life and their desire to see it to continue to improve.
Please join in local activities to show your support for the integrity of science. There are more than 400 activities scheduled nationwide on April 22 including some in La Crosse. Science is critically important to all Americans for a safer, healthier, more prosperous and better-informed world.