Time for Science
as a Conscious Collective Choice
The Covid-19 pandemic and ever-more disastrous climate change both drive home the lesson that this is a time, like no other in human experience, for learning and science as the best information source. Science is an important key to learning, not just because it offers dependable truth and fact instead of belief and opinion, but also because logic and consistency make science much simpler to comprehend and follow than diverse sets of interests-inspired opinions.
Take climate change. As electromagnetic radiation from the Sun is absorbed by matter, it is converted to heat. Earth’s natural processes, including life, release a balanced amount of carbon into the atmosphere, creating a warm blanket that protects the planet’s life-sustaining climate from the deadly cold of outer space. When humans burn long-buried fossil fuels, releasing an enormous amount of carbon, they upset this balance, overheating the planet with increasingly dire consequences. Science’s simple guidance is to stop burning fossils and safeguard nature’s ways—e.g., a healthy forest cover—that recapture the excess carbon. Also, the presence of excess solar heat in the atmosphere indicates that there is more than sufficient alternative energy available to replace fossil fuels in the human energy diet.
A senator with a snowball in his hand trying to make people believe the planet is not warming is merely silly. Creating and maintaining an economic system dependent on endless supplies of fossil energy to support advertising-spurred consumption and a huge waste stream, all for the sake of monetary gain, is unsustainable and destructive.
Even though science still lacks a lot there is to know about the Covid-19 virus, its guidance to minimize the damage it causes is clear and simple: Governments should follow a science-based public health strategy supported by pervasive testing, contact tracing and isolation during the virus’ infectious period. Governments should lead with clear and consistent science-based public messaging for everyone to wear a face mask in public, keep a couple of yards away from people not of their own household, avoid crowds, and wash hands often. We know these simple measures work from the experience of countries that practice them.
Enter Stella Immanuel who claims a medical license from Texas, calls herself a “Deliverance Minister” and “God’s battle axe and weapon of war”. She asserts in a video promoting hydroxychloroquine that it cures Covid-19 and masks need not be worn. She has in the past also said that cysts, fibroids and other gynecological conditions can be caused by dreams of having sex with demons, that McDonald’s and Pokemon promote witchcraft, that alien DNA is used in medical treatments, that scientists are cooking up vaccines to prevent people from being religious, and that half-human “reptilians” work in the government. How is it leadership when a president repeatedly praises and retweets Immanuel’s video, leaving it to Twitter and Facebook to finally remove it for violating policies on Covid-19 misinformation?
Other baseless theories allege that the virus isn’t real, that it’s a bioweapon created by the U.S. or its adversaries, that doctors, journalists and federal officials are conspiring to lie about the virus’ threat to hurt Donald Trump politically. A professionally made video by one Judy Mikovits even claims that top infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci manufactured the virus and shipped it to China. The video, titled “Plandemic,” also warns that masks could make you sick.
We seem to have a dangerous systemic problem: it has become fashionable to think that science and truth are optionally interchangeable with belief and opinion—true/false vs. a speaker’s or listeners’ politics or ideology. Credibility—which, like respect, must be earned, not assumed—and ultimately truth are at stake. When politicians feel free to choose their “alternative facts,” states can “reopen their economies,” ignoring expert guidance and mushrooming virus infections. The consequences are predictable and deadly.
German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt observed that, through an onslaught of falsehoods, totalitarian leaders instill in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” Over time, people get conditioned to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” Then such leaders can do pretty much whatever they want. Junk environmental regulations, subsidize industries that damage the Earth, start international blame-games that metastasize into arms races, defund international collaborations on a whim, promote unfounded beliefs about humans’ relationship to the rest of nature and about “invisible hands” guiding the economy.
Only science can reliably guide us to better ways to retard a virus, mitigate climate change, heat a house for less, and build a more just and equitable society. It all begins with taking the trouble to decide for ourselves whom we listen to—and why.