science-based decisions

Science-Based Decisions?

science-based decisionsYou may have heard about the recent pair of surveys by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Many articles and blog posts focused on the hot button issues like GMOs and climate change. But the surveys uncovered another disconcerting fact about science-based policy decisions.

Disconnect about Science-Based Decisions

You’d think that issues regarding land use, clean water and air, and food safety would be rooted in science. We take it for granted that science provides the foundation for new drugs and medical treatments. We like to think that.

According to the surveys, scientists feel differently—and these are the people that would know. Here is a disturbing breakdown of the numbers:

  • 58 percent of AAAS scientists believe that is the case with new drugs and medical treatments
  • 46 percent of AAAS scientists believe that is the case with food safety issues
  • 27 percent of AAAS scientists believe that is the case with clean air and water issues
  • 15 percent of AAAS scientists believe that is the case with land use issues

These numbers reveal a gaping disconnect between policy and science input. Every category of issues consists of weighty and complex areas of science. They also represent issues that can have significant impacts on humans. Yet, either the science is being ignored or it’s being cast aside for other non-science reasons.

Faith in Science

I don’t think I have to poll scientists to get to what they believe about science. It is, after all, their life work. If you want to understand why policy and regulations lack science-based decisions, the surveys offer another clue.

When asked whether U.S. scientific achievements are either the best or among the world’s best, an astonishing 54 percent of the general public agreed with that assessment. Compared that figure with the 92 percent of the scientists. Therein lies the real concern.

All kinds of questions emerge. Why distrust science? And if not science, what else do you use to base these important decisions on? Public opinion—about food safety? I’m sorry, but I can’t comprehend or understand that sentiment.

Science Is the Foundation

Of course, the public, i.e., stakeholders, should have their say. However, science-based decisions are imperative. As Galileo reminds us,

“By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox.”

Denying facts doesn’t make them go away. Sure, science deals some very hard blows sometimes. But we must man up and accept them even if they are not the thing we want to hear. As Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame puts it,

“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”

It’s that selective reality that can bite you in the pants on day. Perhaps that is the origin of the phrase, “I told you so.” Chris DR

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