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Trejos: March for Science is why people don’t trust science

Jose Trejos, Columnist

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Tragically, our government generally seems to be apathetic to science when making policy. Despite experts’ universal support of, and extensive research on, topics like evolution, climate change and the benefits of free trade, they remain deeply controversial, and the policies resulting from this disregard for science have consequences as grave as impoverishing millions and threatening the continued existence of our species. Earlier this week, people throughout the country participated in the March for Science, which nominally drew attention to this crucial issue in our politics. In reality, it merely continued a concerning progressive trend of degrading and often misrepresenting science as a petty partisan tool, and will likely serve only to further spread skepticism of science.

There exists a general notion in modern leftist politics that science exists on the side of liberals’ supposedly fact-based policies, a generally convenient narrative that allows them to dismiss disagreement as ignorant by default. Admittedly, there are easily a few issues in which the Republican Party easily merits this charge, the most notorious of which is its general denial of the existence of climate change against the overwhelming scientific consensus.

The issue with the view that the GOP represents an anti-scientific force isn’t that Republicans don’t go against science when it’s inconvenient, but rather that liberals do so even more egregiously than Republicans. The same people that levelled righteous indignation at President Donald Trump denying climate change to appeal to coal miners stood silent as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton attacked free trade to win over industrial workers, even though free trade is supported by a similarly absolute consensus among experts. Environmentalists regularly fight the likes of genetically modified organisms, which experts have declared to be safe for human consumption, and faced no criticism even as their opposition is arguably responsible for the starvation and disability of millions among the global poor. While liberals are happy to champion science with outrage against Republicans, they are just as happy to claim the science is not settled when it’s their activists and voters that stand against it.

The March for Science was founded on a simple idea: Use the word “science” to attack Trump. The plurality of the signs in these parades seemed to completely abandon the science theme to attack Trump generically, and the formal statement on the march’s website cites Trump policies, such as the travel ban, among its key issues. There’s nothing inherently wrong at all with a rally that protests a president’s unpopular policies, especially policies as poorly thought out as the travel ban. However, holding an anti-Trump march in the name of science teaches those watching that science is a fundamentally political pursuit that should be taken with the same degree of skepticism we assign to politicians of the opposite party. I wish we lived in a world where saying that climate scientists more or less universally believe in climate change and economists believe in free trade would immediately settle those debates. The reason they do not is in part because the likes of the March for Science squander respect for real science for the sake of making cheap political points.

Oftentimes, listening to science forces people to compromise their general ideologies. One of the reasons so many conservatives deny climate change is that the policies it necessitates are ideologically uncomfortable. It is hard for me to advocate solutions such as a targeted tax and increased regulations when it comes to carbon emissions, when I would argue passionately against these approaches in almost any other context. However, acknowledging science means accepting that sometimes ideologies will not work perfectly with the real world.

Just as conservatives need to learn to accept realities like climate change, liberals need to start moving toward ideas like school choice and free trade and abandoning ideas such as a $15 minimum wage and free college, in line with expert opinion on these issues. I don’t think a single person involved in politics, myself included, can realistically always side with the facts at the cost of setting aside their ideology. But so long as that is the fundamental reality of our country’s politics, we should at least refrain from using science as a meaningless buzzword. Maybe that way, the American people will be willing to agree on some basic facts.

Jose Trejos is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at josetrejos2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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