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23 February 2017

Is Science an Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Or, Is It a Belief System Someone Can Reject?

Two vaguely related items that were aired on NPR this morning caught my attention.

One was on the continued tradition of townhall meetings and how many protestors are participating, for and against the  actions of elected government representative as well as for and against the Executive Actions and results of POTUS Trump, but most loudly concerned with potential situations  with these.  One situation is repealing Obamacare, which more and more is being called again by the shortened name of the law, "ACA" ("Affordable Care Act"), to de-emphasize the former POTUS and to emphasize the misnomer (because it has not made health care more affordable for most Americans, "merely" more accessible, which is not a small thing).

Another situation is the "gag rule" on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as other related agencies, including not allowing Agency scientists to submit articles to peer review scientific journals or otherwise present their research to colleagues and ultimately, the world (can we even guess how many items heard on NPR are culled from the journals "Science," 'Nature," "PeerJ ," "Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)," etc?).

At a recent townhall meeting for Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, there was a lot of shouting, booing, cheering, etc.  Chaffetz and the Trump administration accused the participants of this and other such raucous meetings as organized and paid by liberal activists.  But, there was an interview with three participants today, one who is the parent of the 11-year-old girl with the now-famous (notorious) question for the Representative (which he did not specifically answer), "Do you believe in science?"  What a good question, Daughter Bradshaw.



Later in the Morning Edition program, they talked about marches on Washington and the debate among scientists on whether they should march on Earth Day in support of science.  One scientist, who said there's nothing in common with scientists except the tools they use, advocates a more face-to-face, one-on-one discussion of how science is needed or what a specific set of findings or research could help do, and especially objects to this march being on Earth Day, 22 April 2017.
"Those folks who have been trying to pigeonhole and demonize scientists as having a particular political view and identity will see scientists marching on Earth Day as a part of the environmental movement," says Rob Young, coastal geologist.
We certainly wouldn't want another tweet from POTUS saying the scientists were organized by liberal activists!

All of this does bring up new questions, such as, "Isn't asking whether you believe in science, like asking whether you believe in dirt or rain or hair or PEANUT BUTTER?"  Or, if we follow part of Rob Young's objection which is that scientists have nothing in common but the tools they use to conduct experiments and research phenomena, we may need to ask if the person also believes in sports or speedometers or rule of law or baking.  "Is science like 'alternative facts,' which certainly would be so, if one agrees a) that semantics matters and that the definition of "facts" is "a generally accepted reality," and b) there are alternative realities?"  In short, is all of science a theory?

It is a wonder that anyone believes NASA's big announcement yesterday about the exiting discovery of possibly habitable planets about the same size as Earth in a star system far far (40 light years) away?  They have obviously worked long and hard to put this live announcement together -- all charts and computer renderings; why can't it be totally fake? After an O.J. Simpson movie depicting a fake space mission (Capricorn One), how can you believe anything anyone -- but especially NASA -- show you?  (You know I'm being facetious, right?  Clap your hands.)






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