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On science and politics: Should they mix?

October 12, 2010 |  7:42 am


As the midterm election looms, the arguments over hot-button political issues are reaching a boil.

Just last week, Michael E. Mann -– a professor in the meteorology department at Penn State University and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center -– wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that politicians have distracted and misled the public when it comes to scientific facts, particularly where climate change data are concerned.

In his piece entitled “Get the anti-science bent out of politics,” he blasts a “20-year assault on climate research”:

We have lived through the pseudo-science that questioned the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, and the false claims questioning the science of acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. The same dynamics and many of the same players are still hard at work, questioning the reality of climate change.

He continues that "scientists are in broad agreement on the....

...reality of these changes and their near-certain link to human activity." And he goes on to make a recommendation for our collective future:

Burying our heads in the sand would leave future generations at the mercy of potentially dangerous changes in our climate. The only sure way to mitigate these threats is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions dramatically over the next few decades. But even if we don't reduce emissions, the reality of adapting to climate change will require responses from government at all levels.

He calls for a stop to the attacks against science.

In another opinion piece in U.S. News & World Report, John A. Farrell calls on scientists to stand up for themselves: “Scientists and educators -- and liberals in general -- need to cowboy up.”

He continues, “Hey guys and gals, you are under attack. Show your spine. Expose the doubters, and shame them. If you don't you cede victory, and the stakes are too high for surrender.”

Last year, President Obama issued a directive to “guarantee scientific integrity” in federal policy-making.

Some scientists were pleased when he reversed the Bush administration’s strict limits on limits on embryonic stem cell research.

Despite having the broad support of the executive office, scientists still seem at odds with current policy makers.

It leaves us to wonder if science and politics can meet on common ground, and to wonder what the future holds in terms of climate change policies, a green economy, and stem cell research advancements.

-- Lori Kozlowski

Photo: An exhibit at the 2010 World Stem Cell Summit is seen at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center on Oct. 4 in Detroit. More than 1,200 scientists and researchers from around the world are expected to attend the summit that focuses on the advancement of embryonic stem cell research. Credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images