Editor’s Note: Bill Nye, known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science educator, television presenter, and mechanical engineer. He is the CEO of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest non-profit space interest group. The opinions expressed are his own.
The US has long respected and promoted science, Nye writes
Nye: Science is being undermined by ideological forces motivated to maintain the status quo
I was proud to join thousands of concerned citizens, scientists and engineers in Saturday’s March for Science. With more than 600 marches taking place around the world, we conveyed that science is political, not partisan, and science should shape our policies.
Although it is the means by which humankind discovers objective truths in nature, science is and has always been political. Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution refers to promoting “the progress of science and useful arts” to motivate innovators, stimulate the economy and establish just laws.
The US has become the most powerful nation on Earth and among the greatest in history, because it has long respected and promoted science. Countless policies, from military deployments to regulations that control the formula of a shampoo, are based on science.
Scientific research depends on government investment (approximately $65 billion in the US last year), which itself relies on a social compact: that basic research across all fields is beneficial to a nation.
Currently, science is being actively undermined by ideological forces motivated to maintain the status quo rather than advance the nation’s long-term interest. This is especially true of the extractive fossil fuel industries. When facing tides of deliberate misinformation, scientists, engineers and researchers have taken it upon themselves to organize and raise awareness about their professions and the vital importance of the scientific enterprise.
By marching, scientists had no choice but to engage more in the political sphere. They face staggering proposed budget cuts in energy, medical and environmental research. The denial of the accepted facts of science, along with the rejection of well-established theories – such as evolution and especially climate change – have cultivated anti-science policies that harm people, economies and our global environment.
Science is a process that enables continual innovation, extraordinary public works, reliable transportation, and food for the world’s billions. Consider what the US has achieved in space science; the national pride and cosmic perspective of our planetary home are priceless. Science is universal. Countries around the world have followed suit and established space programs to garner similar benefits.
Without science, the US, any country in fact, cannot compete on the world stage. Yet today, we have a great many lawmakers, not just here but around the world, deliberately ignoring and actively suppressing science. It’s another formula – a formula for disaster. Imagine your world without printed words of any kind – paper, electronic or otherwise.
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How would your life be without electricity, let alone information technology? Consider a city with no sewers. Be thankful for antibiotics and polio vaccines. These technologies derive from our science.
To suppress scientific discoveries such as evolution, the benefit of vaccines, or global warming apparently based on nothing but intuition will soon prove costly and fruitless – and in some heretofore-productive agricultural regions, very costly and literally fruitless. These examples and countless others are connected to policy issues, which can only be addressed competently by understanding the natural laws in play.
As a society, we want informed citizens, who can make good judgments in the voting booth. We ignore natural laws at our peril.
At the 600-plus Marches for Science around the world this Earth Day, we reminded everyone, our lawmakers especially, that science serves our society, and science must shape our public policies. The science marches can prove effective by prompting action. May the facts be with us.