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This op-ed was published in the Press Democrat newspaper on Sunday, February 12, 2017.

Don’t let those who muzzle scientists have the last word


The federal government intends to make it difficult for the public to learn about the evidence that supports the connection between climate change and fossil fuels. Spearheaded by gas, oil and coal moguls, a recent presidential executive order deleted website information about our changing atmosphere and silenced government scientists from talking to the public about this topic. Scientists working for the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies fear the permanent deletion of data.

Muzzling scientists is nothing new. In the 1600s, the pope accused Galileo of heresy and then locked him up after he found evidence that the sun and not the Earth was the center of “the universe.” In 2001, President George W. Bush suppressed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research based on religious convictions. In 2008, conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper abolished the position of national science adviser, shut down science libraries and prevented scientists from speaking with the public about climate change.

What are the implications for us? Evidence-based policies rely on data generated by scientists. Moreover, we pay for this research with our tax dollars and deserve to know what was learned. In addition to research, federal funds support science conferences, training classes and new equipment used to study climate change. Blocking scientists from reporting their data certainly does not encourage our young folks to become scientists.

Since January 2016, the U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded Sonoma State University more than $1.2 million in new grants to study, for example, earthquakes, fish adaptation to the environment, best ways to learn science, ways insects protect themselves from the cold and environmental changes on marine life. An executive order could gag or shut down this research tomorrow. Sad!

What can be done? Treat this situation seriously and don’t ignore it. Ignorance is an enemy of our country’s national security.

Public: Contact your congressional representatives. Demand that policy decisions be based on scientific facts, not beliefs. Increase awareness of scientific denialism by talking with your neighbors, friends and family. Don’t ever accept this as normal. Point out that squelching science threatens our health and environment. Subscribe to reputable newspapers and contribute a few dollars to groups that fight every day to stop such muzzling.

Scientists: Work together to be seen and heard. Protest for sure but also get out and talk to the rest of us mortals. Tell us what you’re working on and why it’s important to us. Explain how science contributes to our national security, health and economy. Create a vision for us of how the world could look in the future, goodor bad. Improve your speaking skills. It’s hard for us to understand the technical language of science. Tell us about science in the form of stories that are informative, interesting and entertaining. We’ll enjoy listening to you and might even learn a thing or two. Join a Toastmasters club, take classes or enroll in workshops tolearn good speaking skills.

Students: Celebrate your curiosity and assert yourself. This is your world and it is fragile. Own it and protect it. Don’t let others destroy it for profit. Don’t let anyone take your science books, videos or webpages away from you and blind you to the truth.

We are in the midst of a renaissance in science and technology, with advanced tools driving advanced knowledge. Together we can make a huge difference in our world by making decisions based on real facts as our foundation.

Dennis F. Mangan

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