Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession




Regarding "Junk Science" and Other Detritus


From a Magazine Ad for the Union of Concerned Scientists (c. 1997):

"Faced with (literally) breathtaking amounts of evidence that smoking kills people, cigarette makers and their slick lobbyists did more than just ignore the facts. They invented a new branch of science: junk science. They commissioned "research." They collected "data." They reached "findings." Obfuscation of the highest order.

"Given Tobacco's success, no wonder so many anti-environmentalists decided to major in junk science. The coal industry has "data" showing the world's climate won't change that much. Some Members of Congress showcase scientists who tell us not to worry about that hole in the ozone layer. And "experts" offer studies claiming that few species are becoming extinct. But be warned.

"Junk science keeps us from hearing the conclusions of mainstream scientists. Scientists who understand that threats to the environment are real and require real action...."

. . . And Speaking of "Junk Science". . .

Back in February, 1997,  we viewed (and fortunately taped) a most amazing program on NBC-TV: "The Mysterious Origins of Man," which was narrated by Charlton Heston (Ronald Reagan, not being available). Here we learned that homo sapiens was alive 200 million years ago, co-existed with the dinosaurs (there are footprints in Texas to prove it!), that the sphinx was built 25,000 years ago, and that (this is my favorite!) the site of Atlantis is beneath a mile of ice in Antarctica.

Antarctica?! How is that possible, you ask? Well, you see, as we all know, the earth's outer crust rests upon syrupy stuff call "the mantle." It so happens that every 20,000 years or so, the polar ice caps get sufficiently heavy to cause the crust to slide, like a big toboggan, some 2,000 miles or so. Thus, not so long ago (geologically speaking), McMurdo Sound was somewhere up around where Buenos Aires is today. Amazing!

How strange that there is no fossil evidence of these dramatic climate changes, elsewhere around the globe. Well, maybe there is. As the "scientists" interviewed on the program explained, their findings have been suppressed by a grand, world-wide conspiracy of "establishment scientists," who are more interested in defending their reputations and research grants, than they are in facing up to the "evidence" offered by these maverick truth-seekers.

Needless to say, Science Magazine (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science) takes a dim view of these shenanigans, noting, in a recent article, that "scientists have tried without success to get a response" to their complaints, from NBC. "When Science contacted NBC Entertainment ... the division that aired the show, a spokesperson said, 'we don't have a statement because to my knowledge, there have been no complaints.'"


What We Don't Know About Science Can Hurt Us!

Last spring (1996), the National Science Foundation verified what we have long suspected: the American public is dismally uninformed about basic science. On May 24, 1996, the Duluth News Tribune carried an Associated Press story reporting that "fewer than half of the American adults understand that the Earth orbits the sun yearly... Only about nine percent knew what a molecule was, and only 21 percent could define DNA.... In a test of environmental understanding, a third of Americans surveyed understood the effects of a thinning of the ozone layer, fourteen percent could identify locations of ozone holes and only five percent could give a scientific explanation of acid rain."

Here is the NSF quiz. Click on this hyperlink for the answers, along with the percentages of correct answers in the survey.

1. The center of the Earth is very hot. (True or False)

2. The oxygen we breathe comes from plants. (T/F)

3. Electrons are smaller than atoms. (T/F)

4. The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (T/F)

5. Human beings as we know them today developed from earlier species of animals. (T/F)

6. The earliest human beings lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. (T/F)

7. Which travels faster: light or sound?

8. How long does it take for the Earth to go around the sun: A day, a month or a year?

9. In your own words, what is DNA?

10. In your own words, what is a molecule?

The March, 1997 issue of Environment published "Environmental Science Under Siege in the U. S. Congress," by the late George E. Brown, Jr., formerly the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Science. He writes that in the 104th Congress

" ... the House Committee on Science ... actively [pursued] a legislative agenda unprecedented in the degree of mistrust and hostility it showed toward federal environmental research programs. The Fiscal Year 1996 Budget resolution, which passed the House of Representatives in May 1995, recommended a 20 percent reduction in funding for federal environmental research in fiscal year 1996 and a steep decline in succeeding years... The committee also passed legislation to restrict the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's climate mission to the investigation of natural phenomena as opposed to any human-influenced phenomena and to eliminate NASA's environmental mission altogether. All of these actions occurred prior to the subcommittee's series of hearings and without any actual public testimony."

By politicizing science and science policy, Brown argues, the Congress has

" ... created the impression that science itself cannot be trusted for policy making. The notion now persists that for any scientific issue there will always be some scientists who are in agreement and some in disagreement, as well as others who will invariably change their minds. Ultimately, people feel that no reliable process exists to resolve scientific differences of opinion with any degree of integrity. This cynical view undermines science-based policy making. It leads to the erroneous and potentially damaging idea that institutions like Congress need to assume the responsibility for defining what constitutes "sound science" and begin acting like a science court."

The idea that politicians rather than scientists should decide what constitutes "sound science" should deeply disturb all those concerned with the integrity of the scientific process.

A very disquieting article. Highly recommended.

"Results from a poll of 2006 US adults released last week by the National Science Foundation, found that 72% believe that the benefits of research to society outweigh the harmful effects. The survey also found that leaders in the scientific community rank second only to physicians in public esteem...

"[And yet] just over one-fifth of Americans surveyed could adequately explain a scientific experiment, while 64% have 'no understanding' of scientific inquiry... Less than half knew that electrons are smaller than atoms, that the universe began with a big explosion, or that antibiotics kill bacteria but not viruses. And only 44% said that humans developed from earlier species of animals. This skeptical attitude toward evolution ... is unique among industrialized countries."

Andrew Lawler
Science, May 31, 1996


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .