The War on Science

By Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished University Professor and Adviser in Marine Sciences, U.S. Envoy for the Ocean, U.S. Department of State

I am a scientist. I went into science because I loved it. Now I’m fighting for science because it is at risk but absolutely central to our health, economy, security – indeed, our future.

I’ve always loved trying to figure out why things are the way they are. I was drawn to nature and people. Hiking the Colorado Rockies triggered endless questions about wildlife and provided ample opportunity for camaraderie as well as solitude during our ambitious one- to two-week backpacking trips.

Then, during a summer college class in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, I fell in love – with the ocean. I discovered a new world of intriguing creatures and habitats that occupy an astonishing 99 percent of the living space on our planet, provide half of the oxygen we breathe, supply healthy protein for billions, regulate the climate, and delight us with their majesty and mystery.

Later as a marine biologist, I spent countless happy hours unraveling some of those mysteries. However, over time, it became obvious that most of the ecosystems I studied were threatened by unintended consequences of human activities. I transitioned from seeking to understand the ocean to searching for innovative solutions to use it more sustainably.

For over two decades, I’ve worked with fishermen, other ocean users, communities, business leaders, managers, politicians, and scientists to find smart ways for people to use the ocean without using it up. Science is central to the task. It complements the knowledge that others bring. It helps us understand the likely consequences of different choices. It informs our thinking.

I’ve witnessed the powerful benefits that science and partnerships can bring: returning fisheries to sustainability and profitability, restoring coastal habitats to protect communities from storm surge, providing wildlife habitat and creating recreational opportunities and jobs. Science provides hope and tangible ways to recover the bounty of the ocean and to use it wisely to improve human well-being. Science points the way for people and nature to thrive together.

But this nascent progress and future solutions are now at great risk. Science is under attack as never before. The president’s proposed budget would slash science funding and threaten continued progress to improve weather forecasts, manage fisheries and forests, clean up our water and air, ensure food safety and make new scientific breakthroughs. The administration has already begun to muzzle and intimidate scientists and hide scientific findings from the public.

Let me be clear: These and other actions compromise our health, threaten our children’s and grandchildren’s future, erode our nation’s competitiveness, and undermine the very basis of our democracy – an informed citizenry.

In response to this war on science, scientists are rebelling against the dismissal of facts and evidence and marshalling support for rational approaches to decision-making, continued investments in science and citizens’ access to data.

The relationship between science and society is evolving. Scientists are learning to communicate better with non-scientists, becoming more involved in their communities, collaborating with others to find more solutions to complex challenges and making their voices heard. But science cannot fully serve society in a climate of intimidation, alternative facts and insufficient funds to implement existing and create new solutions.

Make no mistake: This is not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike have provided strong support for science in the past. Some continue to stand up for the central role of science to improve the human condition and build a better world. But in today’s political chaos, elected representatives across the political spectrum need to hear from their constituents who value science, evidence and access to information. Our legislators need to know we will not stand for efforts to suppress and defund science because it underpins our way of life and our future.

We need science to continue to help us clean up our air and water, protect public health and safety, create jobs, conquer diseases, enhance security and provide hope for millions of people. But, unless enough of us stand up for science, our collective future is at risk

1 Comment

Thanks Jane for the wonderful message to scientists, the public and the policy makers. I agree that scientists need to be at the table to help set policies that are based on data, science and facts. It does mean we need a science advisor, a census director,…. It does take the entire ‘village’ or the community, for having a healthy people living on a healthy planet, in a healthy economy. It is everyone’s responsibility.

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