Not A Scientist
Did you go to the March for Science on Earth Day? Did you feel the swell of pride for all the people who lent their support in favor of science? Do you worry about the current state of science in America, especially when politicians are holding the purse strings? Then Not A Scientist, How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science by Dave Levitan is your next read. Not a Scientist is loaded with examples of real life politicians ditching the facts, disputing the evidence, and generally disrupting the scientific status quo on topics of which they know little to nothing about.
Today, there is an ever-growing divide between science and politics. Maybe it’s because the problems are too big, the solutions too expensive, the public loathe to change. There’s little disagreement in the scientific community that humanity is on the brink of critical mass, a 6th extinction, if you will, but to hear the politicians talk one would think that great controversy exists among scientists where it concerns the environment since politicians are always doing their best not just to ignore, but to call into question the most fundamental of scientific principles and method, rolling back regulations, and naysaying whenever possible.
Politicians aren’t dumb. They know it’s easier to lie then tell constituents that it’s going to cost a kajillion dollars of hard-earned cash to address some of the more intractable environmental issues. Fix climate change? cha-ching. Repair or replace an aging water infrastructure under every large metropolis in the country? cha-ching. Stop a new development in order to preserve an endangered species? Lost profits. It’s all too much for the overburdened consumer. Politicians know this and have offered to do the thinking for us. And since they take their jobs seriously, they’ve devised clever phrases that should help ease the burden and obfuscate the truth. All you have to do is keep voting for them on election day.
Levitan searched the internet to find the first time a politician used the phrase, “I’m not a scientist…,” tracing it back to Ronald Reagan in 1980. During his campaign against Jimmy Carter, Reagan waxed philosophically about the amount of sulfur dioxide (a component of acid rain) Mount St. Helens had released into the atmosphere following its eruption: “more … than has been released in the last 10 years of automobile driving.” Turns out that you can be really REALLY wrong when you don’t understand the science. In Reagan’s case, it was many orders of magnitude off the mark — the volcano’s eruption released 2,000 tons of SO2 per day into the atmosphere while at the time, the U.S. population was releasing 81,000 tons of SO2 and the world population was at 300,000 tons!
Not a Scientist is great for science geeks and everyone else who lives on planet earth (notice I didn’t say “anyone who cares about the environment”?), but let’s just get this out — you’re not going to walk away with a warm fuzzy feeling after reading it. You will gain a few tools to help you spot and then navigate around the many lies you’ll hear about the environment from those elected to represent you, so go for it. As they say, knowledge is power. Read Not A Scientist and get on with your powerful self.