In Defense of Science

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On April 22 thousands of Americans, in cities all across the U.S. will gathered and participated in the March for Science – an idea and movement spurred by ordinary citizens alarmed by the growing efforts to discredit scientific understanding and restrict scientific discovery – often in the name of science.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

I share their alarm and it is time that the public takes a stand.

Now more than ever, we need to safeguard scientific integrity, stand alongside our scientific community, and fight for robust investment in scientific research and development.

History tells us that bad actors will often try to undermine science to achieve ulterior motives. Such was the case with tobacco and the link to lung cancer in the previous century. As early as the 1940s, epidemiological studies linked cigarettes to the rise of the lung cancer epidemic, yet it took decades before the government took definitive action on the evidence – a classic case of deny and delay. By focusing on the miniscule margins of scientific dispute, profiteers in the tobacco industry corrupted public discourse and public policy by calling into question the validity of a growing body of science linking smoking with lung cancer. The strategy worked, and the impact of deny and delay was real. Millions were dying but as late as 1960, only a third of U.S. doctors believed the case against cigarettes had been established.

In many ways we are seeing that same story play out again today.

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Take the debate on climate change and global warming for example. Some policy makers continue to argue to wait for more ‘settled science’ to take action, ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. The debate on climate change is just another iteration of the same deny and delay tactic used to erase and rollback protections and policies aimed to defend our health, our environment, and our planet.

When thousands of Americans took to the streets last weekend, a powerful signal was sent to policy makers at every level of government, countries around the world, and to the children of our future that we the people stand for science, that we the people want to invest in science, and we the people want our laws and policies to reflect the best available science, not political distortions fueled by industry and ideological interests.

The U.S. scientific enterprise has and continues to revolutionize the world and the ways in which we interact with it. From the advent of modern medicine, to the innovation of flight, to the invention of the microchip right down the road at Texas Instruments – the very essence of science is a metaphor for progress – always evolving, always moving forward, always improving, and always asking what the next frontier is.

The application of science to policy should be non-partisan and non-political, yet the luxury of staying silent is long gone. Every day, state and federal legislators are promoting laws that fly in the face of science and endanger both human life and the future of our world. Here in our nation’s capital and the White House, there are efforts to cut back on research and innovation across federal agencies and to gut our environmental protections. Instead of moving forward, we are running backwards.

While I intend to work tirelessly to beat back the tide of anti-science efforts in the U.S. Congress, everyday citizens must take a stand and fight to ensure that their representatives and their government continue to make policy decisions based on sound science and make investments to ensure that the U.S. continues to be the global leader in scientific research, development, and innovation.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member and most senior Texas Democratic member serving on the U.S. House of Science, Space and Technology Committee.