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Opinion: The denial of science will do nothing but hurt us

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Last month, National Geographic published a cover story called the “The War on Science.” What it talked about was an increasing pattern where regular, everyday people doubt the work of scientists who spend sometimes decades learning their field and have devoted their entire lives to further researching it. Even in Congress, right-wing politicians have hopped on this bandwagon, making scientific claims, yet then proceed to say “I’m not a scientist.”

Nothing good will come from this lack of trust. Some of the greatest problems to come in the 21st century are happening right now, and any effort to stop these problems is impeded by people unwilling to listen to the real experts.

In California, people are currently experiencing the worst drought in the entire history of the state since records were first kept. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed orders for a 25 percent decrease in water usage during the drought that is now reaching its fourth year. This is on top of other various efforts to conserve water. Not only has this caused water shortages, but it’s also caused an increase in wildfires in recent years. While this event is not directly caused by global warming, scientists are quick to point out that the drought is being made worse by it. Because of the increasingly warm years, there has been less snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains in eastern California, which has led to less water in rivers, canals and reservoirs.  This gallery from the Atlantic shows how devastating these effects have been on the environment in areas where once lush bodies of water are reduced to small creek beds or even nothing.

This is only one of many extreme weather events that has occurred in recent years. And yet, less than half of Americans even think climate change is a major priority. There is clear evidence that our climate is changing rapidly and for the worse. All evidence points toward this not being a typical natural cycle. Politicians, mostly on the Republican side, continuously will argue against climate change, saying there isn’t enough evidence. Yet 97 percent of academic articles on global warming, written by people who dedicate their entire lives on studying this subject, state that human activity has led to global warming.

Then, there are the vaccine deniers. These unfortunate people have brought back diseases that have been long considered eradicated. The patron saint of these deniers was Andrew Wakefield. In 1998, he published an academic article claiming vaccines can lead to children getting autism. Yet a Sunday Times article revealed that Wakefield’s study was baseless, and he had actually been paid money by the parents of children used in the study. But even though his work was proved false by the scientific community, people all over the world have latched onto the idea.

Now, especially in America, anti-vaccine sentiment is alive and well. Presidential candidates such as Rand Paul and Chris Christie both suggested that vaccines should be optional. Paul even claimed he knew parents of children who claimed vaccines had caused their children autism.

Former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy claims to have “cured” her son’s “vaccine-caused” autism and has been a major advocate against vaccines as a result. And when pitted against scientists who are experts on the issue, her rebuttal is “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”

It’s because of people like this that we have gone from measles being eradicated in 2000 to there now being one of the biggest outbreaks in recent decades.

These are only two examples of the culture of denying science in our country. The National Geographic article mentions other cases, where despite science generally being in favor of one particular view, people will still be strongly against these ideas. This includes chemicals that purify water supplies, genetically modified food, Ebola virus, evolution; the list could go on and on.

People are afraid of things they don’t understand. Yet because of this, they turn a scientific argument into an emotional one. They think because things get slightly worse off, or some anomaly occurs, they must go against everything scientists say. Sometimes, like with the vaccine debate, people just assume because we’re already fine that we don’t need vaccines. Other times, like in the global warming debate, there are entire industries that know they would be hurt by laws to curb climate change, and they will fight every step of the way. We can’t allow this to happen. Science has done a lot to better humankind the past couple of centuries; we can’t let fear of change keeping it from bettering us even more.

 

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