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A Voice in Defense of Science

by Larry J. Schweiger

We often take certain things for granted in life. One of those for me was the difference between personal opinions and scientifically verifiable facts. I never thought I would have to march to defend the very notion of science itself. 

Like tens of thousands of others in many cities around the world, I marched with PennFuture’s staff and 20,000 volunteers stretching across ten blocks across Center City Philadelphia during the March for Science on April 22. During this march, we gave support to the scientists who are under fire from dark-money contrarians, climate deniers, and even the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who himself rejects climate science, and our own president who thinks that climate change is a Chinese hoax. 

We started at Philadelphia City Hall, which is crowned by a statute of one of America’s earliest noted scientists, Ben Franklin. It was appropriate that a Franklin look-alike led our march as he was not just a founding statesman, inventor, and author of “Poor Richard's Almanack,” but he also was one of America’s first scientists. Among his scientific advancements, Franklin charted the powerful Gulf Stream that enabled ships sailing for Europe to double their speed. 

Franklin also launched the American Philosophical Society in 1743 to pursue "philosophical experiments that let light into the nature of things, tend to increase the power of man over matter, and multiply the conveniences or pleasures of life." Franklin knew that the advancement of science and the application of knowledge would greatly benefit society. He also believed that curiosity and experimentation would lead to greater light into the nature of things.  

In a modern social system as in Franklin’s day, certain principles and values are inherent to the proper functioning of community.  Since the 18th century “Age of Enlightenment,” science-based decision-making has been central to nearly every societal advancement. 

Science leads the world towards greater and greater progress, as we find new ways to tackle old problems. PennFuture shares Franklin’s view of science, as we are an environmental organization committed to science-based advocacy for the advancement of a safe, healthy and sustainable society. We depend upon science to provide critical answers to the most vexing air and water pollution problems. Soil science properly applied yields greater productivity while retaining nutrients and sediments. Clean energy built on advancing technologies provides clean, carbon-free energy to meet the demands of a 21st century society.

The highly-respected astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best: “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Whether policymakers believe in science or not is irrelevant, facts are stubborn and cannot be just legislated away. Should society irrationally abandon authoritative science and turn once again to superstitions and myths, then we will certainly drift into the tyranny that created the Dark Ages. 

Upon hearing that President Trump wants to cut climate science funding and dismantle EPA’s science advisory group, the newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron says France wants our top climate and clean-tech researchers to move to his country, where they will be understood and respected.  The French president knows that science and innovation will underpin the winning nations in the future as it has in the past. 

Can we afford to lose our scientific edge and just ignore or discount the warnings of climate scientists? Can we simply publish textbooks that avoid objectionable scientific conclusions and pejoratively label innovators and leading thinkers as “coastal elites?” When a highly vocal chorus of ill-informed voters repeatedly reject basic truths and pursue myths and alternative facts concocted by those who obfuscate, we must ask, perhaps are we a society encountering the very boundaries of human enlightenment? I, for one, certainly hope not, but that is no longer a given.

Franklin was a strong proponent of "enlightened" rationality – and we agree. Please help PennFuture carry the banner of enlightenment to confront the myths and disinformation that is causing so many to stumble and threatening the very inhabitability of much of our planet.

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