science and politics

Recently, I gave a seminar on "fake news" to professors and grad students at a large public university. Early in my talk, I polled the audience: "How many of you believe climate change is the world's #1 threat?"

Silence. Not a single person raised his or her hand.

Was I speaking in front of a group of science deniers? The College Republicans? Some fringe libertarian club? No, it was a room full of microbiologists.

How could so many incredibly intelligent people overwhelmingly reject what THE SCIENCE says about climate change? Well, they don't. They just don't see it as big of a threat to the world as other things. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them felt that antibiotic resistance and pandemic disease were the biggest global threats. One person thought...

It's been an interesting week for people who work in public relations.

United Airlines dragged a screaming passenger off one of its planes, injuring and bloodying him in the process. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, claimed that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons, apparently forgetting that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews in gas chambers.

Not to be outdone, the national organizers for the March for Science said, "Hold my beer, and watch this."

March for Science Defends ISIS

Today, the official March for Science Twitter account criticized the Trump Administration for bombing ISIS, claiming that the gigantic bomb we dropped on the terrorists is an "example of how science is weaponized against marginalized people."

After...

President Trump has convened a panel to address America's opioid epidemic. Its first mission should be to find convincing data to identify the actual cause(s) of the problem. That will be much harder than it sounds, since ideologues are always in plentiful supply.

Indeed, many influential people already seem to have a strong opinion about who is to blame. Claire McCaskill, a Senator from Missouri, points her finger at pharmaceutical companies. She is launching an investigation, but there is little need for one, given that she has already told us what its conclusions are ahead of time: 

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Today, it seems that honest disagreement just isn't possible. Social media, which has become a sewage pipe of political hyper-partisanship and unscientific propaganda, magnifies this disturbing trend. If two otherwise intelligent people disagree on something, accusations of being a liar, fraud, or paid shill are quick to follow.

Compounding this problem is the fact that half of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Instead of ushering in a Second Enlightenment, it appears the Information Age has turned us into paranoid cynics who perceive dark forces controlling world events. Such is the state of our...

Scientists are humans, too. And, just like other humans you know, some of them aren't very good at their jobs. There are three main ways in which scientists can mess up.

First, some scientists feel as if they have something valuable to say on any topic under the sun. (Far too often, it's politics.) Like those suffering from the dreaded Nobel Disease, they act as if their true expertise in one subject gives them wide latitude to speak boldly on every subject. They are wrong.

Consider a poll of scientists who belong to the American Association for...

The war on expertise is not a new phenomenon. Nearly 60 years before Tom Nichols published his bestselling book, The Death of Expertise, author C.S. Lewis wrote about it in an essay titled "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," a follow-up to his internationally renowned book The Screwtape Letters.

In the novel, a senior devil, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to a junior devil, Wormwood, on how to be a good tempter. Thus, every moral pronouncement in the book is precisely the opposite of how humans ought to behave. The Enemy, to whom Screwtape refers constantly, is God. 

In his toast, Screwtape explains to a large gathering of "gentledevils"...

On November 8, I published an article titled, "Whoever Wins On Election Day 2016, American Science Is Still #1 In The World." That is every bit as true now as it was then.

Mr. Trump promised to be a different kind of president. So, nobody should be surprised that he is living up to his campaign pledges. However, his budget proposal for 2018 should raise some serious concerns. Cutting science funding, particularly that of the NIH, is not aligned with his goal to "Make America Great Again."

How Bad Are the Proposed Cuts?

In many ways, Mr. Trump's goal of reducing the size and scope of the federal bureaucracy is...

For the first time, President Trump is giving a speech to a joint session of Congress*. Since the President has a habit of keeping us all guessing, here is a wish-list of things we would like to hear Mr. Trump talk about.

Healthcare reform. The Affordable Care Act had good intentions. It is obviously within society's best interest to have as many people covered by health insurance as possible. However, the ACA is flawed. Medical costs keep rising. CNN Money reported in September 2016 that "[p]rices for medicine, doctor appointments and health insurance rose the most last month since 1984." Our award-winning resident pediatrician, Dr. Jamie Wells,...

Politics makes utter fools out of otherwise rational people. The vitriol aimed at President George W. Bush by his political opponents caused psychiatrist and political commentator Charles Krauthammer to coin the tongue-in-cheek term "Bush Derangement Syndrome." It caught on. Pundits subsequently seized upon the terms "Obama Derangement Syndrome" and "Trump Derangement Syndrome."

Now, it appears as if some psychologists want to give these satirical diagnoses an air of medical authority. An article in Kaiser Health News, which was (unbelievably) reprinted by...

At the end of my senior year in high school, our class opened a time capsule that we made in 2nd grade. Each of us had filled out a piece of paper asking us questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I wrote "Scientist."

Of course, in 2nd grade, I didn't have a lot of insight into what scientists actually did. (In fact, I didn't truly appreciate it until graduate school.) I thought science was cool. I owned a chemistry set. Whatever science was, I wanted more of it. 

Oddly, the website for the "March for Science," which was organized by scientists, reads a lot like what I wrote in 2nd grade. After weeks of planning, the site's page on Principles and Goals continues to be...