On politics and science | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 22 | p. 3 | Letters
Issue Date: May 29, 2017

On politics and science

Department: Letters
Keywords: opinion, letters

I read through some of the articles in your C&EN issue dated March 20. I am reminded of some issues revealed to me by my research adviser, W. D. Walters, while at the University of Rochester. While I was a graduate student, Dr. Walters showed me an article in a Russian journal that was criticized by the Russian government because its scientific conclusions did not agree with government policy. As a result, I believe the researchers were removed from their positions or they lost government funding. This was the case even though their scientific conclusions were valid and beyond reproach.

The reason I am making this point is that we should, as scientists, be very skeptical of decisions made by politicians. I am reminded of the Indiana pi bill (House bill 246) in which the Indiana legislature of 1897 wanted to round the value of pi to 3.2. We think of this today as hilariously funny, but more complex issues, such as those dealing with climate change and drugs, may slip through scientific scrutiny.

I believe that a very important job of publications like C&EN is to keep government and politicians honest. It is your duty to challenge questionable government decisions and bills. You must protect the public.

H. Robert Gerberich
Corpus Christi, Texas

Bibiana Campos’s April 17 editorial (C&EN, page 2) disparages the Heartland Institute and a book it distributed called “Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming.” Campos complains that Heartland’s “views are conservative.” Well, I’m a conservative and I happen to like Heartland’s positions on issues. I suspect many other ACS members do as well.

Campos’s main issue is that the aforementioned book rejects the scientific “consensus” that climate change is anthropogenic and a serious threat to the planet. Campos repeats the frequently heard claim that 97% of scientists agree that global warming is a pressing problem. Had the editor read the book, she would have learned that this “consensus” is bogus and that there is, indeed, a lot of disagreement about the causes and extent of climate change. I have read the book and find that it is well documented with solid conclusions about global warming. Science is not based on consensus; it is based on evidence.

The editorial also expresses support for the March for Science, which ACS (unfortunately) decided to participate in. The march was advertised as a neutral event in support of science. It turned out to be a politicized push for funding and a celebration of liberal causes like climate change, sustainability, renewable energy, materialism, globalism, and social justice. By supporting the march, ACS has thus alienated many of its members.

It appears that ACS has joined the culture wars on the side of liberalism. Technical societies like ACS should not be participants in the philosophical war of ideas. What happened to scientific inquiry as a skeptical, objective, open-minded, and honest search for the truth?

Robert Lattimer
Stow, Ohio


Corrections:

May 1, page 28: Calysta can use directed genome evolution to manufacture its fish feed protein, but its current FeedKind product has not been genetically modified, as stated originally.

May 8, page 9: In the science brief on lignin, the sulfating reagent was missing an oxygen in the sulfur group. The reagent is a sulfate, –OSO3Na, rather than the sulfonate shown, –SO3Na.

May 8, page 14: PBF Energy, not BPF Holdings, is the name of the company that recently bought from ExxonMobil a refinery that was investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board for a 2015 accident.

 
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Comments
Henry Bungay (May 29, 2017 10:11 AM)
Long ago I spent one year as a Program Manager at NSF and later was a Program Manager at ERDA (now part of the Department of Energy). My estimate is that one-third of the proposals that I handled were so obviously good that they deserved approval, one-third were marginal, and one-third had insufficient merit. With the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts for science, the best proposals will still be approved but fewer of the marginal proposals will be. Of course, there will be some deemed marginal that should have been funded. Nevertheless, the proposed cuts cannot cripple science in our nation.

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