Our beliefs -- the things we accept as true -- can be split into things we are told (based mainly on “Authority”) and things we can observe/test for ourselves (based on “Evidence”). Everyone uses both sources, but not to the same degree. Even scientists rely heavily on evidence first discovered by earlier workers (Newton famously said that he saw farther then others because he stood “on the shoulders of giants”), albeit requiring that such sources be both accurate and subject to confirmation. To that base, they add new information (data) and explain precisely how it was obtained. At the opposite extreme, fantasy novelists and various other artists create worlds less burdened by reality, using that emancipation to explore beauty, morality, and other topics ill-suited to scientific analysis.
Government needs to work mainly in the scientific mode when fashioning policy. Our philosophical compass is pre-set by the Constitution. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” is a blunt statement of assumptions, our ideals. Self-evident! Policy is the recipe we follow in striving to reach those ideals and factual information plays the role of ingredients. In our guts we know that nonsense like “alternative fact” is a poor substitute. While truth is often elusive, it is out there somewhere. Good bakers do not replace shortening with bacon grease because that spoils the cake.
Real facts are similarly important for legislative policies dealing with nature. And science is the best system humans have ever developed for discovering verifiable information about nature. “Truth isn’t truth” has scant appeal as a logic framework. The most obvious problem with alternative facts is that they are infinitely flexible: groups with opposite ideologies can invent countless fabrications that align neatly with their views. That approach gets us nowhere.
As I write this letter, monster Hurricane Florence is stalling just offshore, sucking up extra seawater from an overheated ocean. The damage it inflicts over the next few days will be extraordinarily expensive, probably lethal. Scientists have warned us to expect more ‘rare’ events like this (e.g., last month’s western fires, last year’s Hurricane Maria, etc.) as the result of climate change. Not just a few cherry-picked scientists, but a staggering 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is artificially inflated by human activities. Such agreement among scientists (a notoriously skeptical lot) is stunning.
Yet, our president dismisses the matter (“Chinese hoax”) and current congressional enablers cry “Controversial!” When asked directly about climate change, a few just announce “I am not a scientist!” Think about that. When our car won’t start do we just declare, “I am not an auto mechanic!” or do we find someone who is? We value expertise, people who know how to work with real evidence…real facts.
In the District 7 Congressional race, Abigail Spanberger is clearly the realists’ pick. One cannot work in federal law enforcement and CIA anti-terrorism intelligence by cherry-picking only information bearing happy-face stickers. Facts matter. By contrast, Dave Brat ducks, asserting “The best way to care for our environment is through economic growth and free markets” at the local level. He does not explain how a worldwide climate crisis will be fixed via local free markets. His statements on the environment are science deserts, a turtle retreating within its shell. We need science and facts on this and many other issues. We need Spanberger’s commitment to reality.
Douglas W. Mock
Editor’s Note: this letter originally appeared in the Goochland Gazette, and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.
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