A friend of mine sent me a link to an article about a week ago, and it’s the first time I’ve been able to do much of anything about it. It’s an opinion piece from NPR suggesting that Congress (and I would imagine anyone working on any level of the government) take a pledge to accept the authority of the scientific community – without saying anything about the policy they would adopt or implement as a result of their findings. The suggested pledge text is below:
Given the unique role science has played in American history — securing our prosperity, ensuring our defense and allowing us to push back the frontiers of knowledge in ways which will echo through future generations — I ___________________, representative/senator of the State of ___________________ pledge my support to the great American enterprise in science and technology.
In particular I pledge to make no statements in flagrant contradiction to the foundational principles of basic science, nor will I support others who make such statements. Understanding the importance of science to the next generation of Americans, I pledge to uphold the integrity of basic scientific research and take no actions to undermine the broadest public education in empirically verifiable scientific truths. I further acknowledge that such education must include an understanding of the methods science deploys in its investigations, as well as the limits of those methods.
In making this pledge I affirm that an absolute respect for both science and a personal commitment to divinity (in whichever form) are not incompatible.
I have a few thoughts on this:
First, I think this is very well written. It’s a good, solid pledge to accept the validity of the scientific method (which has already proven itself for centuries) but makes no commitment regarding any course of action, leaving politicians free to act on their best judgment … provided it’s not in blatant contradiction with basic science. The people who run this country don’t have to be rocket scientists or evolutionary biologists … although that would be nice for a chance. However, a pledge along these lines would set the priorities of this country back to education and scientific development where they belong, and not obsessively focused on making sure there are no new taxes ever just because some idiot named Grover says they’re icky. Meanwhile countries like China and India are well on their way to lapping us in the scientific arena within the next couple of decades.
Second, I think this pledge would be enthusiastically signed by the majority of democrats, and essentially ignored by republicans as a ploy to do something insidious like “force secularism into public schools”. The problem, in this day and age, is with who the GOP has decided they can’t live without from an electoral standpoint. Several decades ago, they managed to clinch the evangelical Christian vote; since that day, they have been stuck pandering to their “base” by spending half of their time on the campaign trail denying science, questioning the theory of evolution and big bang cosmology, and getting all misty eyed over the “good old days” when Christian prayer was compulsory in public schools and homosexuality was considered a mental illness. As long as republicans rely on these low0information, low-education voters to get them into office, they will never accept science and its implications. Getting elected is just too damned important.
Last, the fact that something like this is required at all … and for the legislature of the most powerful nation on Earth … means that we are in dire need of much stronger measures. Remember, this is a proposal to tell adults to accept reality for what it is, not for what they want it to be. It’s telling them not to be delusional. Stuff like this should be old hat back in primary school, yet it’s one of the biggest problems our government is facing today. And it isn’t just about a percentage of our legislature wanting to get elected. This is about people who are not only willing, but able to make sure that everyone has to live by their own personal moral code; it is one that is inherently misogynistic, homophobic, and overtly non-scientific. It’s about being right and forcing everyone else to agree with you. In that mindset, there is no room for the impartiality and openness of science.
So in short, it’s a great idea because we need it … it will never happen because there are too many poorly educated fundamentalists out there ho vote … and the fact that we need something like this at all is a sign that we’re all pretty well screwed.