Sunday, February 20, 2011

My congressman has selective science disorder

My congressman has selective science disorder. He's been much in the news of late as chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives. His name is Fred Upton, and he told us as recently as April 24, 2009 that "[c]limate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions."

But now that he has finally gotten a little power, he has contracted selective science disorder. And, who can blame him? He's been in the wilderness for so long. He held no important posts even when his own party was in power in Congress from 1995 to 2007 because Republicans considered him too moderate. It seems his first taste of real power has thrown off his mental balance.

When it was clear that he would become the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I told friends that the country could do a lot worse, that others who were being considered for the post were flat-out climate change deniers who didn't believe in science as a basis for public policy. I was relieved when Upton was finally confirmed as the choice of the Republican leadership.

But my relief was short-lived. The signs of selective science disorder began to show up immediately. Now, I suppose you are all wondering what this strange, new-fangled, but fast-spreading disease is. It consists simply in accepting the fruits of science when it provides you the comforts and conveniences you desire (and comports with the financial interests of your campaign donors) and rejecting particular findings of science when those findings conflict with your continuing desire for those comforts and conveniences (and run counter to the financial interests of your campaign donors).

It's an affliction that also strikes many religious conservatives who reject compelling geological evidence of Earth's 4.5-billlion-year history in favor of the creation story, and then get on their computers or cellphones to tell you about it--not reflecting that if they reject science as a basis for modern society, then, to be consistent, they would have to give up all the gadgets that modern science has made possible. (I don't blame these people for not abandoning their conveniences. But I do fault them for being so oblivious to the logical conclusions of what they are saying, namely, that since science can't be trusted, the products of science can't be trusted. And, yet they trust them!)

Now, Fred Upton is no religious conservative, and he is no troglodyte when it comes to science. In fact, Upton embraces the complex findings of science when it comes to nuclear energy. And, he supports scientific research to develop so-called carbon capture and sequestration technology that is being touted as a way to make coal "clean." He also likes other energy-producing products of science such as wind turbines and solar panels.

So when the overwhelming evidence from scientific inquiry concluded that humans were making a very large contribution to global climate change through the burning of fossil fuels, Upton embraced this conclusion. After all, he was on the side of technologies that could potentially address that problem.

But now he says he is not convinced that anything needs to be done to regulate carbon emissions. He describes the greenhouse gas regulations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promulgating as a "power grab." He is, of course, being disingenuous. He knows full well that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the existing Clear Air Act. Actually, it would be a power grab to undo this.

With his newfound revulsion for science, will Mr. Upton now toss his cellphone into the trash or turn off the fuse box in his house or refuse to fly on airplanes back to his district because the science of flight is still evolving and may not be completely settled in every respect? Of course, he will do none of these things. That's because selective science disorder creates a built-in blindness to contradictory thinking and a susceptibility to campaign campaign contributions from special interests who only like science when it increases their own wealth.

P.S. If you are a climate change denier, before you comment on this post, read my Comments Policy. You may decide it's not worth your time to comment here.


John Andersen said...

It's an old story:

Perhaps the majority of humans when faced with a choice to take a principled stand or to sell out, will choose to sell out especially when their livelihood, power, and public adulation are dependent on their selling out.

I've seen many gifted individuals do this, and later try to rationalize their reasons.

That always gets messy, and never convinces.

Transition Group said...

How does the saying go
"Its difficult for a man to understand something that his paycheck says he shouldn't"
Or in this case his benefactors that put him in office.

Dunc said...

I think the fundamental problem is that too many people "science" as a disconnected jumble of facts. They just don't seem to get that it all hangs together.

Weaseldog said...

Science is all about theories, right?

It's just a bunch of theories that describe how a cellphone works. How can you trust that?