One of the first units I cover every semester—regardless of which psychology course I am teaching—is an overview of research methods. As a social science, the research methods we use to test hypotheses—predicated on the standards of the scientific method—are critical in establishing the foundation for the discipline of psychology. Now, more than ever, as we live in a socio-cultural environment where not only truth is under attack, but specifically, science is being undermined by the present administration—it is critical for students to understand the distinction between anecdotal evidence and scientific inquiry.
In a searing op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times entitled “President Trump’s War on Science," the myriad ways that the present administration is undermining scientific inquiry is outlined. A resonant example is that while the administration has of course identified sympathy and the need to help the victims of the current hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there has been virtually no discourse or connection being made by this administration—made up largely of climate change deniers—between these extreme weather occurrences and climate change.
Similarly, in an article entitled “Attacks on Science” (n.d) by the Center for Science and Democracy, the authors note that, “Trump administration officials are systematically editing Department of Energy websites to strip references to climate change, downplay impact of fossil fuels and scale back benefits to clean energy." Indeed, federal agencies designed to protect the environment and offer regulations meant to promote general safety and health for the public appear to be on the verge of being dismantled from within. In fact, few if any individuals with scientific credentials are being nominated to key positions while programs intended to promote safe environments through proper regulations are being defunded.
Take, for instance, Trump’s nomination to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, Sam Clovis. He is neither a scientist or even remotely credentialed in any discipline resembling science. In addition to referring to climate change as “junk science,” Clovis is in fact a former blogger and radio talk-show host (“President Trump’s War on Science," 2017).
This nomination is, unfortunately, consistent with appointments that have been made since this administration came into power. As reported by the Center for American Progress, “despite the overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, EPA Administrator Pruitt has questioned whether carbon dioxide causes climate change and the magnitude of humans’ role in driving it” (Alexander-Kearns & Cassady, 2017, para 3). The authors go on to add that, “Pruitt has also staffed the EPA with a litany of climate change science deniers” (Alexander-Kearns & Cassady, 2017, para 3).
A world where truth is flexible or altered to serve a given ideological position devoid of any scientific standards or legitimacy is a dangerous one. It is a world where potions or blind faith replaces medicines and surgical interventions; a world where catastrophic storms and extreme weather will continue to ravage vulnerable populations with little connection to larger origins or policies for prevention. As Schueneman (2017) reflects:
To be clear, there is nothing President Trump could have done to prevent Harvey’s devastation. Any poor decisions contributing to the storm’s impact were made long before he became president. But decisions he and his cabinet are now implementing ensures more devastation, more human and economic loss, and more ‘never before witnessed’ catastrophic weather in the decades to come. (para 11)
Scientists and the general public must demand that we return to a culture where legitimate standards are used to determine truth, and scientific inquiry is once again elevated as the gold standard for determining policy and promoting safety for all. Otherwise the weather catastrophes that we have seen unfold this week will become our new normal.
A world without science is a dangerous one indeed.
Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2017
Alexander-Kearns, M, & Cassady, A. (2017, April 21). The Top 7 Ways the Trump Administration is Attacking Science at the EPA. Center for American Progress: Energy & Environment. Retrieved on September 10, 2017 from: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2017/04/21/430866/top-7-ways-trump-administration-attacking-science-epa/
President Trump’s War on Science (2017, September 10). The New York Times: Editorial (Print).
Attacks on Science (n.d.). Center for Science & Democracy: Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved on September 10, 2017 from: http://www.ucsusa.org/center-science-and-democracy/attacks-on-science#.WbWyc7KGOpo
Schueneman, T. (2017, August 31). The Sad Irony of Trump’s Presidential Response to Hurricane Harvey. Global Warming is Real: Resources for the Concerned Citizen. Retrieved on September 10, 2017 from: https://globalwarmingisreal.com/2017/08/31/trump-response-hurricane-harvey/