THE WAR ON SCIENCE
"The War on Science will change how you see the world"
"Shawn Otto’s new book is a must-read"
"Every so often a book comes along that changes the way you view the world. The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto is one of those rare books. If you care about attacks on climate science and the rise of authoritarianism, if you care about biased media coverage or shake-your-head political tomfoolery, this book is for you. "
“Wherever the people are well-informed," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government.” Jefferson was a lawyer and a scientist, and like the other founders, he risked his life to defend the ability of people to govern themselves, informed by science, against the authoritarian rule of kings.
But what happens today, two centuries later, when science and technology have become so advanced and so powerful that they influence every aspect of life, yet have become so complex that relatively few people understand them—including those we elect to powerful office?
Are the people still well-enough informed?
Recently, we’ve seen politicians at the state and national level ignore and deny science that doesn’t fit their political ends on topics as crucial as climate change, GMO foods, economics, environmental regulations, vaping, alcohol, vaccinations, sex education, birth control, and a number of critical issues related to the global COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump's science denial politicized masking and getting a COVID vaccination, prompting millions of Americans to actively reject science and basic public health precautions as a part of their political identity. This has cost the United States trillions of dollars in lost economic activity and growth, and tragically, many of these science deniers have paid with their lives. From April 4 to July 17, 2021, 34,972 (92%) of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 6,132 (91%) of COVID-19–associated deaths happened to people who were not fully vaccinated. Many people ask at the point of admission if getting a vaccination would help.
As the most scientifically-advanced nation, America could have enjoyed the best outcome in the world. Instead, it has suffered among the worst. At first hoping to minimize the official numbers of infected Americans, President Trump failed to heed warnings about the virus's danger and the need for full transparency and a rapid response. His administration did not implement timely testing, and let the virus explode beyond America's ability to contain it. They failed to increase purchasing and production of needed medical and public health resources, and failed to mobilize an early coordinated, evidence-driven response. They exacerbated this by pitting states against one another in bidding wars for PPE, and as the data worsened they sought to obfuscate and hide the truth from public view.
Combined, the lack of evidence-driven leadership cost America trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. Ignoring scientists, several Republican governors and mayors have continued to repeat President Trump’s mistakes and parrot his early view that the pandemic response was alarmism and a political hoax and an act of authoritarianism, and they refused to implement scientifically-recommended actions promptly. These political decisions to denigrate science and evidence in favor of political solidarity helped to worsen the problem, bringing unnecessary misery and death down on their own citizens, and the emphasis on personal freedom at the expense of the facts and personal responsibility contributed to the claims fueling the January 6 insurrection by Trump extremists at the United States Capitol, and is fueling a dangerous erosion of the social contract with evidence that underlies democracy as a functional form of government. Democracy was built on the principles of science as its foundation, and once objective truth dissolves as a credible concept in a society, democracy cannot stand.
These problems were reaching a head even before the pandemic. From 2016 to 2020, the federal government lost more than 1,600 scientists. Half of its appointed scientific leadership positions were left vacant by the Trump administration, and scientific reports that didn't support the political views of the president were frequently altered or quashed. Almost all science related to climate change was cut or eliminated, as was science and policy related to global cross-border challenges that require a cooperative response, including emerging infectious diseases like COVID and other SARS family viruses. This has happened with the knowledge and support of elected leaders in Congress of both parties, but the majority of them have been Republicans.
At the very time we need it most, science is increasingly denied by elected leaders in favor of "alternative facts" that better fit their ideology, and adherence to those alternative facts is strictly enforced in today's politics that emphasize party over country and party loyalty to the leader over evidence — which is part of why those mayors and governors parroted the president's views over the evidence of science.
This is not just an American problem, it is a worldwide problem, at all levels of government. It is occurring on the political right and on the political left, as well as in society among celebrities pushing pseudoscience and journalists arguing that there is no such thing as objectivity, so they should therefore cover “both sides” equally when only one side is supported by evidence, further skewing the public sentiment away from factual reality. Postmodernist education programs throughout the Western democracies have taught for two generations that all experts and knowledge claims are suspect and truth is relative to one's perspective, so it should be no surprise that the public is adopting this false view.
But without objective facts from science, how do we settle disputes in government? Traditionally, it has been by the person with the loudest megaphone, the slickest sales job or the biggest stick. Ironically, postmodernist teacher and journalist training, intended to instill critical thinking, has instead paved the way for a new era of authoritarianism. So it is no surprise that we are seeing a worldwide erosion of democracy.
These many challenges are compounded by social media platforms like facebook, instagram, twitter and tiktok, that are largely unregulated and make money as social phages - destroying democratic societies through monetizing disinformation, extremism, and conspiracy theories.
These platforms in turn are used by Product Defense firms who specialize in social disinformation and science denial psyops campaigns that target the activists and donors surrounding Republican lawmakers in an effort to control the political dialogue and slow regulation of clients who have lucrative commodity products that have nevertheless been shown by science to have negative health or environmental effects. These same targets are hit over and over with a barrage of antiscience messaging, fueling a growing embrace of authoritarianism and dismissal of evidence in the Republican party that goes well beyond Donald Trump.
The War on Science exposes where this movement is coming from, what people and social and economic factors are driving it, and what we can do to turn things around before it’s too late.
"A prescient reminder of the cost of sidelining science."
Policymakers and voters everywhere would do well to read The War on Science.
Walter Mondale, United States Vice President
Otto makes a case that can't be refuted. Here's hoping all voters everywhere take him seriously.
Bill Nye, the Science Guy
We're seeing right now a titanic battle between the power of science and the power of money—and money is winning. The War on Science explains why, and might get us back on the right track.
Bill McKibben, author and cofounder of 350.org