Science without Representation

My government doesn’t represent me.  I am a female scientist and engineer who is working to help business combat the disruptive results of climate change. I help companies engage in practices that can limit the environmental and social damage caused by addiction to fossil fuels.

My lack of representation is exemplified by the senate appointments to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The subcommittee appointments of Ted Cruz on Science, Space and Competitiveness and Marco Rubio on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard are especially insulting.  These two committees oversee NASA and NOAA, the agencies that authored of the State of the Climate Report. This confirms that global warming is real, and that the planet had its warmest year on record in 2014.   Both of these politicians chosen are climate deniers who claim to not be scientists but  feel qualified to devalue the opinion of 97% of the scientific community who agree that climate is changing and that human habits are the cause.

Our societal science literacy is suffering. The language used in the climate change denial is an insult to scientists.  The mistrust of science is high.  The ability to critically assess information and challenge data is rare to non-existent. The fact that the U.S. is 20th in science education among the 34 OECD countries doesn’t help citizens to elect people of learning and those who respect the scientific disciplines.  Many people stay away from learning more because, “it’s too hard.”  But this is wrong: the basics of scientific inquiry and engineering problem solving are reachable for anyone and can be taught without complex math or advanced science topics.

It is embarrassing that those who uphold the Founding Fathers as their guiding light in the political path have neglected their education on history.  Thomas Jefferson, the father of the GOP and the concept of minimum government intervention into personal lives was an advocate for education. He made this clear in his A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.   

“It is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this [tyranny] would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”

He further states that education needs to be for all “without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance”.

It is important to acknowledge that Jefferson was a product of his time. He was primarily concerned with providing education for those that would participate in government, which was white men.  A commentary by Nichole Blackwood from 2012 at states “Jefferson’s treatment of gender and race also complicates his message.”  However, most of his fellow Founding Fathers, notably John Adams, later Jefferson’s rival, understood that mothers had the care and education of the sons, who, given that they could eventually go into public service needed mothers educated sufficiently to educate them, as well.

Mr. Adams was likely influenced by his wife Abigail, whose correspondence with her husband and friends opens a window into early feminism.  She was a strong advocate of education for women beyond the basics of reading and writing.She and her friends created a virtual book and education club where they shared, via letters, what books and topics they were reading. Their learning expanded into Latin and other classics that were only accessible through their male relatives who were off at school. (Source: Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, Free Press, 2009).  Cokie Roberts covers this topic as well in Founding Mothers (HarperCollins, 2004) and mentions it in her Kahn Academy video series from the Aspen Institue.

If we are to address, seriously and successfully, the food supply, energy, waste and water issues and the social injustice that faces humanity, we need an educated and accurately informed populace.  Only then we elect officials who are educated, informed and can think critically about complex problems.  Our Founding Fathers recognized this need. They would be ashamed of the dismissal of science and education from their hard won political system now advocated by those who claim to be their successors in party and principles.