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    Can You Be Pro-Science And Pro-Environment In 2012?
    By Hank Campbell | October 30th 2012 01:22 PM | 19 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    If you think global warming deniers are anti-science about the environment, take a look at environmentalists.  While the former are only anti-science about one thing, environmentalists are increasingly on the wrong side of lots of science issues.

    Journalist Fred Pearce is an environmentalist and a journalist but even during the real nadir of science journalism, the mid-2000s, he was never an advocate or a cheerleader. He always asked the uncomfortable questions, even about people whose side he was on, and he brought new science issues to light while doing it. He has been right for doing so, because scientists are in the forefront of environmentalism, not environmentalists.

    What real issue have environmentalists ever gotten to before scientists? The ozone hole?  Nope, environmentalists never heard of it before mainstream scientists sounded the alarm, then they jumped on it and raised money using it. Ocean acidification?  No environmentalists there until after the fact, raising money again.  Instead, activists have given us nonsense derived from Rachel Carson, and they even went a step farther - instead of addressing misuse in agriculture they promoted the idea that DDT causes cancer and got it banned. That lack of responsible indoor usage of DDT led to tens of millions of deaths.

    Progressive apologists, spare me the fluffy nonsense how it didn't.  It did.  Just like eugenics, learn a lesson and move on.

    I was on a radio interview a few weeks ago with the Scientific Integrity Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists and we agreed on a lot - but not one big thing. She advocated yet more laws and rules and regulations whereas I advocated less following 'leaders' and promoting more individual knowledge so the public could tell politicians what to do regarding science in an informed fashion.  It makes sense for an activist group to advocate more government because if there are more laws and politicians who like laws, their paid lobbyists have an easier time promoting their world view.  But their world view is not science.  While the UCS accepts the science consensus on global warming, they deny the science consensus on energy and food.  In two out of three of the most important science issues facing America, UCS, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and all other environmental activists flat out deny science.

    Pearce, like anyone sane, has some concern about the role of business in our food supply, but that is also not something new.  We stopped being an agrarian society 70 years ago and during my entire lifetime corporations have 'controlled the food supply' just like corporations control every small-town grocery store and farmer's market.  Yet food is still cheap in America, even with union labor and Big Ag being all corporation-y and making a profit.  What would be more ridiculous than the government trying to grow food?   A potato would cost $100 if the government ran agriculture. Instead, they just redistribute money using antiquated policies; it isn't efficient, but it is less harmful than if they actually grew food.

    There's no need here to rehash the anti-science beliefs of environmentalists about GMO food, including the latest mainstream media craze about rats with tumors. Anyone gullible enough to believe that a French anti-GMO activist was doing solid work in biology isn't reading this piece anyway. Yet what did activists do when all of science criticized the lack of transparency and suspect model? They claimed the research group was victim of a vast, right-wing conspiracy by government and business.  It's 9/11 truther, Obama birther, flat-earther, JFK-was-shot-by-the-Mayans stuff.  But it puts rational environmentalists on the opposite side of the kooks who have hijacked the movement.  Rachel Carson would be all for GMO foods if she were alive right now, it accomplishes what she wanted to accomplish and she would not like the generation of anti-science activists she inspired.

    Pearce quotes Stewart Brand wrote from his book "Whole Earth Discipline" - “I dare say the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than any other thing we’ve been wrong about.” 

    Indeed they have. A war on food is a war on poor people and the people fighting that war are activists in wealthy countries. People who can afford to buy organic are the 1% - of food. They are either wealthy enough to afford organic soap or lucky enough to be born in a rich agricultural area.  Being smug about food choice is easy when you have plenty of it.  But their anti-science beliefs, once brought forth, then extend it from food to all science; they regard science as being just like organic food, a world view or an ethical belief and not a rational understanding of the world according to natural laws. There is a reason you can use a protractor in California and draw a circle around a Whole Foods store and find hotbeds of anti-vaccine beliefs.  Whole Foods says it puts its stores where wealthy liberals are - you can do that math.

    What are pro-science environmentally conscientious people to do?  A big problem we have run into, at least in America, is an Us and Them mentality which forces people into Big Tent positions.  While the left can criticize the right and say it is dishonest for fiscal conservatives to turn a blind eye to the perils of religious conservatives or climate change deniers, the left actively does something worse - instead of ignoring their cranks they go out of their way to rationalize their anti-science contingent by claiming they are instead "anti-business" or anything except what they obviously are; fearful and distrustful of what they regard as simple another world view - science.

    Science is not a valid constituency in the US (yet) because scientists do not vote on science issues. 40 years ago science academia was reflective of America and so scientists were supported by both conservatives and liberals. Only anti-science hippies believed science was out to kill us by being tools of big corporations, but they believed the same things about computers so everyone ignored them.  Today, academia is quite partisan and therefore the only people who trust scientists are people who happen to agree with whatever the scientist is saying at the moment - neither the left or the right trusts scientists even as they claim to trust science.  Republicans trust geologists on fracking but not the climate scientists on the atmosphere. Democrats trust scientists on climate but not...well, everything else.  Fracking is bad, nuclear is bad, GMOs are bad, windmills are bad, hydroelectric is bad, even solar is bad, because it hurts the ecosystem to build anything.

    Yet scientists don't think all those things are bad. It just happens that, in 2012, 84% of scientists are voting one way because of other cultural issues. Science has nothing to do with how they vote, no matter how voting may be rationalized.  And candidates know scientist votes are not up for grabs, that is why neither side mentions climate change or any other science issue - Obama knows they are already voting for him regardless of his (often anti-)science positions and Romney answered those ScienceDebate questions with more thought and care than Obama did and knows it did not change a single vote. Despite what everyone tries to claim, science makes no difference at all in how scientists vote. It is just a campaigning issue when it happens to validate how they were already voting.

    The solution is easy, if childishly unsatisfactory because it is impossible to implement (kind of like when Paul Krugman writes on economics for the New York Times); vote on science issues instead of just abortion or taxes or gay marriage or gun control.  Teachers vote for the party that is going to give their union a raise - okay, that is their job so it makes sense.  But hunters vote for the party that isn't going to take away their guns, even though hunting is not their job.  Scientists have both a job and a passion so why don't they vote based on an honest appraisal of the science issues?

    Part of voting on science issues would be calling out people who claim to care about the environment and science, but only if it matches their political agenda and when it does not, they invoke the tiresome 'you must be a shill for...' argument and bleat about straw men and false equivalence and whatever other flawed logic they learned from like-minded bloggers.  Criticizing anti-science environmentalists, as Pearce does, would go a long way toward helping to reclaim science as a politically agnostic endeavor for the public good, and it would shore up the perception of the neutrality of scientists when they discuss science issues.

    Read more from Pearce:

    Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? by Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360

    Comments

    I don't agree with several points in this article (Rachel Carson = nonsense?) but many environmentalists go out of their way to downplay human overpopulation, the biggest driver of environmental destruction. It's also the reason for the constant struggle to exceed the limits of nature and grow unsustainable amounts of food with fossil fuels and genetic manipulation.

    I think the ultimate truth is that Man is overloading nature and pretending technology can fix everything. The ongoing "plan" for perpetual economic/population growth is mathematically, biologically & geologically impossible on this finite planet. Science can't fix that core dilemma. We need a steady-state system ASAP.

    Hank
    I say 'nonsense' because scientists said it at the time and still do; anecdotes that she heard someone sprayed DDT in their basement and got cancer and died 6 months later would never fly in the modern world, nor would her grossly partisan misuse of statistics or her cherry picking of data overall.  But I also defend her and say she would at least support GMOs, since they mean less pesticides and fertilizers.
    It may be good to remember that President Kennedy tasked the fact checking of Carson's book to the President's Science Advisory Council (PSAC). In turn they set up a panel consisting of the nation's leading entomologists, biologists and a few others, including at least one Nobel winner, and they thoroughly went over the book.

    Their report, on May 15, 1963, found Carson dead right on the science, all the way through the book (you misremember the anecdote a bit, I suspect). While expressing concern that Carson wrote so well -- they were troubled that they were emotionally moved by the writing, I suspect -- their recommendations for federal policy implied Carson had been too gentle on DDT, and they called for immediate restrictions while more studies were done.

    In the end, Carson's science in Silent Spring was correct at the time and has never seriously been challenged in the ensuing 50 years. Indeed, Discovery Magazine's look in 2007 found that the science on the harms of DDT to birds had been greatly reinforced with more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies.

    DDT was indicted in court as a deadly poison, which of course it is. DDT was ordered banned completely by two different federal courts who found its label and after effects violated federal pesticide standards as they existed in the late 1960s (from 1950s laws). In 1970 the National Academy of Sciences, acknowledging DDT's great benefits, called for the stuff to be phased out as quickly as possible, since the harms outweigh the benefits. After a lengthy administrative law hearing at EPA, DDT was confirmed as an uncontrollable poison in the wild. Because DDT killed indiscriminately and posed a threat to entire ecosystems, EPA banned DDT from use on crops in the U.S.

    As you know, under U.S. law a regulatory agency may not act on whim. On science issues, the standard is that there must be significant science to back any regulatory action on that science issue. EPA was sued twice to stop that regulation, by DDT manufacturers claiming the science did not back a ban, and by wildlife advocates, claiming the science was correct in the early decisions which called for a total ban, even on manufacturing (which EPA's order allowed to continue, for export). Those cases were consolidated, and the appeals courts ruled there was plenty of scientific evidence to back EPA's regulation. Since 1972, that regulation has not been challenged again -- the science has not changed.

    The only nonsense here is your mischaracterization of science, law and history on DDT.

    Have you actually read Carson's work? I don't see evidence of that here.

    Pearce got it all wrong, too. Why do you guys carry such an unjustified grudge against Rachel Carson?

    Carson was right. DDT was banned app

    Hank
    Have you actually read Carson's work? I don't see evidence of that here.
    Sure, and it reads like a book about science would read if it were written by a trial lawyer who was talking about tobacco or Vioxx.  A little science, a lot of emotion and bad statistics.

    Carson was not 'right'.  Quotes from the NAS like "DDT is the poster child for beneficial chemicals that are also hazardous" is not a call for a ban, it is a call to stop overuse, and by 1958 - 4 years before her book - the USDA had phased a lot of that out.  We don't have much malaria in the US.

    You seem to think a political body responding to an outcry from the public related to a sort-of-science book making silly claims is a validation of the science itself. You should not confuse science with policy, since politicians never do.  The PSAC said the public should be aware of the dangers while recognizing the value of DDT, that was their recommendation. And that the NAS should do studies, which they did and led to the quote in paragraph 2.

    You seem to have read Carson's book like a love-struck fanboy and never bothered with any of the science.

    Ah, then you haven't read the briefs in the DDT cases -- Carson's book isn't at all as harsh as the briefs and the testimony from the scientists. The trial lawyers pointed out all the fish kills and the uselessness of DDT spraying where such powerful pesticides were not required. Carson defended DDT use against malaria -- and, which you overlooked, warned accurately that unless DDT use were dramatically curtailed, it would become less effective or useless against malaria. By 1965, that was WHO's experience, and WHO had to abandon its very ambitious malaria eradication campaign because of use and abuse of DDT by DDT advocates who, like you, claim Carson was biased.

    Actually, she was biased -- for accuracy. All writers would do well to study and replicate her methods.

    I've challenged you before, a challenge you didn't take up then, to cite something Carson said that was inaccurate. The challenge still stands. Her footnotes haven't changed in 50 years, though there's a lot of research on a lot of those topics. Her footnotes are still valid. That's deadly accuracy any journalist should envy, and all scientists strive to achieve.

    You seem to think that policy is separate from good science. It shouldn't be, and under U.S. laws, it isn't when the regulations come from federal agencies. Legislative bodies occasionally try to pull a Canute (without realizing Canute's command were wholly ironic, demonstrating to his own policy advisors that a king cannot change the facts of science).

    You ignore the history of DDT, and you ignore the law. Have you ever actually worked in policy in government? You don't show much undrstanding of the processes, and you appear wholly oblivious to how policy makers use history. No, there wasn't much malaria in the U.S. when the Forest Service curtailed its use of DDT in 1958 -- but you fail to mention that malaria had been essentially wiped out of the U.S. by 1939, seven years before DDT was even available for malaria fighting (yes, DDT was used after the war, but in mop up operations -- check the history of CDC); and you hope I'll ignore that USFS's use of DDT wasn't aimed at malaria. DDT was banned on the science, and the science is still good.

    See the PSAC report: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-085-011.aspx
    Read the NAS recommendations here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9575.html#toc

    To a cynical, agenda-driven anti-environmentalist, I suppose a straight-up statement of the history and law looks like fan-boy adulation. I think you'll find it's your lens which is clouded and unfocused, not mine.

    MikeCrow
    Science can't fix that core dilemma.
    We can mine and populate the Solar System. The technologies required to support that would also cure many of the issues of resource usage, energy generation, and waste management we have here.


    Man is overloading nature

    Who gets to tell everyone else they can only have x number of children?
    Never is a long time.
    Hank
    The same people political demographic that calls themselves environmentalists today were eugenicists a hundred years ago, so I predict they will tell everyone else who gets to have kids. 

    Getting rid of science czar John Holdren may be a reason to not vote for Pres. Obama, since he brought up forced sterilization and abortion in one his 1970s doomsday books.
    MikeCrow
    I suppose you're right, And people get their noses all bent out of shape by people who quote scripture and show up at your door with a bible.
    Never is a long time.
    A closer check will find that those states in the U.S. with eugenics-favoring laws were concentrated in the Bible Belt, and that the advocates were, most often, the business leaders and community leaders of the day, not scientists, not conservationists.

    Hank
    So Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was a Bible Belt business leader, as was John Maynard Keynes and the New York Times?  Your knowledge of overall culture is even more flawed than your knowledge of pesticides.
    Holmes was commenting on the Virginia law. Keynes had nothing to do with the other score of U.S. states who passed eugenics laws. As I noted earlier, not my lens on pesticides that is flawed.

    Stellare
    I absolutely agree with your analysis:

    "It just happens that, in 2012, 84% of scientists are voting one way because of other cultural issues. Science has nothing to do with how they vote, no matter how voting may be rationalized."

    and

    "...science makes no difference at all in how scientists vote..."


    First of all, science span a wide range of societal domains and secondly scientists represent a wide range of cultures (different parts of the country, religious background etc) - why should they agree on anything? :-)

    I have learned that there is a bigger difference in worldviews of a physicist and a social scientist than there is between men and women.

    There are other matters than science that will form your political views, that is not hard to see, for me at least.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    I totally agree but please put this in an America context; journalists in N Europe may be a bit more balanced but in the US everything is framed as one side being anti-science and one side not, despite humans encompassing an even wider range of cultures than physical and social sciences, and the rationale they used is 'pro science'.  So my overall point is 'if we want society to care about science, then scientists need to care first' - the same way teachers care about policies on teaching and police care about policies on crime - rather than scientists simply adapting the latest cause of one party.

    There is little science in American environmentalism yet the left rationalizes it as anything but the left being anti-science about issues. Yet when it comes to climate change 'anti-science' is the charge again and again.
    Stellare
    Yes, I recognize that here scientists care about science policy as an issue, and not individual topical? issues like global warming etc. No side is either pro og con science like you say is more the case in the US. It doesn't make any sense at all and I do not understand how that perspective arised even in the US. Strange.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    "Yet, food is still cheap in America"

    Of course it is not. About $6 a day per person for the very basics (and I'm talking Rainbow, not all the "organic" shite) is disastrously expensive! $2 for the cheapest piece of beef? You must be joking... $6 a day amounts to $180 a month! You must be forgetting that the majority of Americans earn way under $40K...

    Hank
    . $6 a day amounts to $180 a month! You must be forgetting that the majority of Americans earn way under $40K...
    ha ha Well, they wouldn't be putting in food stamp payment centers at farmer's markets if regular food was expensive.  Even America's poorest can apparently shop organic or we wouldn't be spending all that taxpayer money to make it easier for them.
    Well, it's because a standard foodstamp alone (from what I've heard) actually goes for an ok amount of food. Isn't it a wee over $200? More than $180, see? Alas, people who actually have a job (and sometimes not too bad of a job) often have to starve themselves, since they don't qualify for food stamps because of their salaries, which are ok, but have to be mostly spent on mortgages (which are, in their turn - underwater, so selling the place and renting instead is not an option)...

    Nonsense. Make an effort to understand what environmentalism and isn't before writing next time. You simply swallow the dishonest characterachure of the environmentalist pushed by right-wing idiot, anti-science, religious libertarians.

    Hank
    Wow, you managed to run the whole bigotry gamut in two short sentences.  You sort of proved my point about the intolerance and hatred of anti-science environmentalists.  Well done!