Friday, November 21, 2008
Thank goodness Congress did not step in the way of progress back then. In fact, nobody would have had the temerity to ask Congress to stop the fledgling auto industry back then even though it surely caused the loss of many jobs as America adjusted from horse drawn vehicles to the internal combustion engine.
Dateline: Washington, D.C., circa 1915— Hank, the ice-delivery man, decries the advent of the modern household refrigerator. “These things are going to mean the end of my job and the jobs of thousands of others who haul ice to households across America every day,” he said while testifying before Congress on the need to protect American jobs. “Never mind the fact that refrigerators are more convenient and will significantly reduce food-born illnesses in the United States. I am talking about an industry that has been part of every American’s life for centuries and an important part of our economy.”
Oh my gosh, can you imagine all the jobs lost over the past century as light bulbs replaced oil lamps, airplanes supplanted passenger rail, natural gas usurped coal, petroleum made the whaling industry obsolete, computers performed secretarial and accounting tasks, robotics made cars cheaper and better, carbon-graphite was used in place of steel, now we send e-mail instead of letters, and text messages have overtaken phone conversations. Yes, we live in a changing world. Everybody wants progress; it is the change they don’t like. The reality is that one of the few constants in life, besides death and taxes, is change. Come on America; build a bridge and get over it.
As I write this, the “American” auto industry is before Congress telling them and the American public that if the Federal government does not bail them out it will be the end of our modern economy. And the American public is buying the idea that a bailout is appropriate even as they choose to buy foreign cars over “American” made automobiles.
I am struck by the notion of what Chrysler, Ford, and GM describe as the “American” auto industry. Excuse me, but doesn’t Chrysler own Mercedes-Benz and isn’t Volvo and Jaguar now part of Ford and Saabs are now a GM product? Have you looked under the hood of your “American” car? There you will find parts made in Canada, Mexico, and all over the rest of the world.
And what are the Toyotas that are made in Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, West Virginia, and Indiana—chopped liver? Did you know that Honda has been manufacturing in the U.S. since 1979 and building cars in America (Ohio) since 1982? They have facilities in Georgia, Colorado, Ohio (5), California (5), Alabama, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina (2), and South Carolina. Honda buys parts from more than 600 U.S.-based suppliers.
Have you ever thought about the hundreds of thousands of jobs in foreign car dealerships and repair shops across the country? Whoops, I forgot the Honda and Toyota repairmen are like the Maytag repairman which is, I guess, one of the real reasons Ford, GM, and Chrysler are no longer numbers 1, 2, and 3 in U.S. auto sales and need a bailout.
It comes down to this—are we for free trade and fair competition, or not? In a competitive economy there are winners and losers. In America, we all have the inalienable right to pursue happiness which in many cases manifests itself in the form of going into business for your self. Nowhere is it written that you are protected from failure. Now we have this new phenomenon—too big to fail. I am not naïve enough to think that there are not certain elements that are so intertwined in our economy that their failure is simply too catastrophic to contemplate. I am not necessarily against bailouts if they are well conceived and structured on economic principles, not political expediency. But, the real question is—how did we get to the point of having so many “too big to fail” companies out there?
The only fair competition is what economists call “pure competition.” No barriers to trade, no social engineering, no regulations—pure free market mechanisms functioning based on consumers making the best decisions for themselves and businesses maximizing profits. Where those two intersect is called Supply and Demand. To my knowledge, no country or place on earth has pure competition and no place ever has had it, so let’s get past that.
But, if we want American products to be freely sold in other countries, then we must lead by example. Moreover, before Americans should ever consider getting into a trade war by imposing tariffs or quotas, we would be wise to remember that, even when we suffer the worst trade deficits, America is by far the largest exporting nation in the world. We have much, much more to lose in a trade war.
If Congress and the Executive Branch want to help the U.S. economy, the Federal government should 1) get its own fiscal house in order, 2) Congress should, for the first time in three years, actually do the hard work of passing a Federal budget instead of punting with Continuing Resolutions, and 3) the U.S. Government should continue to exert appropriate pressures on other countries to open their markets to U.S. products. Then, and only then, will all “American” industries thrive.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
After 34 years and counting since I graduated from college, I have most definitely forgotten much, much more than I remember. However, there are always a few turning points in college; that one experience that sticks with you through time.
One of my more memorable lessons while attending the
Macro economics, to summarize crudely, is where you put the supply side and demand side of micro economics together to model a pseudo free enterprise economy such as that of the
During the early 1970s, there was a lot of talk among economists and policymakers about replacing welfare programs and other social assistance programs with a Negative Income Tax. The theory was simple enough. Eliminate all these complex programs with burdensome regulatory structures and replace them with an income tax policy that actually paid money to people who fall below a prescribed income level. The further below the set income level you fall the more the government would pay. The Negative Income Tax is in essence the next level of income redistribution after a progressive income tax structure. As I understand Senator Obama’s proposed tax plan, he would apply a Negative Income Tax policy on top of the progressive income tax structure that currently exists.
Back in my college days when I was in Macro Economics, we had available to us a sophisticated computer model of the
At this time in my life, I hold close to what Winston Churchill said, “If you are young and not liberal, you have no heart. If you are old and not conservative, you have no mind.” Back then as a self-confessing liberal, I set very generous parameters for my Negative Income Tax Policy, plugged them into the computer and sat back to await the results.
Of course, I expected Utopia. What I got instead was a very poignant lesson on the facts of economic life. Very soon after the policy went into effect, my economy experienced an increase in inflation and a drop in productivity. As time went on, the inflation began to spiral out of control. That last inflation rate I recall was in the neighborhood of 1200%! In the end, the computer spit out a punch card with a sobering message to this effect, “The incentive to work is so low that the workers have all revolted, your economy has collapsed, and your country is in revolt.” Seriously, according to the computer, I had precipitated the failure of our economy and revolution!
I laughed at the time. It was all a just a what-if game, no harm, no fowl. The difference now, and the reason I recall this lesson in economics, is that we have a candidate for President who is proposing a Negative Income Tax. I fear for our economy and our country because that computer message 34 plus years ago may have been more prophetic than I ever thought it would be.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Outside the Department, I have been judged mostly by people who have never worked directly with me as being an incompetent political hack, the Darth Vader of conservation, a minion of the ATV industry, a destroyer of National Parks and all they represent, mean-spirited and vindictive, and a puppet of Dick Cheney.
SO WHO IS PAUL HOFFMAN?
What do I stand for, and what did I do to earn such disparate reputations? I think my personal mission statement probably says best who I am and explains why some people disdain me. My personal mission statement is:
I believe that my gifts come from God and that I am called to use those gifts to serve people by helping them, listening to hear their needs, assimilating and distilling facts that relate to their needs and the issues, and advocating in the public forum to bring forth solutions that benefit the whole by applying the principles of honesty, concern, fair play, respect, discernment, integrity and trust.
WHAT WAS MY SO-CALLED CRIME?
In 2005, I had the temerity to propose changes to the National Park Service Management Policies that put the “enjoyment” part of the National Park Service mission and back into the management policies. Moreover, after 3.5 years of working with the National Park Service to resolve challenges that many and various park managers were facing, I thought that the NPS Management Policies needed to be updated to give the park managers the tools they needed to make management decisions that were consistent with the overall NPS mission as well as the legislated purpose of each individual park unit.
By the way, as opposed to the hue and cry of some people who are offended by Americans enjoying their National Parks, as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, my job was to provide policy guidance to the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So, making changes to the NPS Management Policies was well within my purview and authority. In my proposed changes to the management policies, I never changed any regulations or laws as was often stated.
CONSERVATION AND ENJOYMENT
National Parks and the relationship of enjoyment to conservation is clearly articulated in the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. You will often hear environmentalists refer to the Organic Act in the context of conservation only as though enjoyment was not contemplated by the U.S. Congress when it founded the National Park Service. The following text from the Organic Act of 1916 is often referred to as the core legal mandate of the National Park Service:
The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life [sic] therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. (emphasis added)
Later in what is called the Redwood Amendment to the Organic Act Congress added that the NPS should also conserve the “values” of the National Parks, but never has Congress suggested that enjoyment is not part of the National Park Service mission.
THE CRUX OF THE DEBATE
The crux of the National Park idea has been debated throughout its first century with the principal question being, what is the relationship between conservation and enjoyment and what constitutes “impairment” knowing that all enjoyment has some impact on resources? Many people point out the dichotomy of the Park Service mission: conservation versus enjoyment. I maintain that either conservation to the exclusion of enjoyment or enjoyment to the detriment of conservation would result in the impairment of the National Park idea.
Over the years, many observers of the National Park Service believe the NPS has moved away from enjoyment and leaned disproportionately toward erring on the side of conservation. Modern technology results in more ways for people to enjoy parks. Growth in the National Park System and the populations surrounding parks leads to more conflict between enjoyment and conservation. For many park managers, the easiest decision is to just say, “No.” However, in many cases to just say “No” ignores the primary mandate of the Organic Act, “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of… …by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes…” (emphasis added). Now, there is no debate about what to do if a specific use cannot be regulated by such means and measures to prevent impairment. Under those circumstances the park manager is morally and legally obligated to prohibit the use. But, just saying “No” because it is the most expeditious decision, abdicates the responsibility of the park manager to manage.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
I worked through the management policies line by line, page by page and I made proposed changes based on what I believed to be unclear policies and policies that were problematic thus causing park managers to be faced with impossible decisions. However, after sharing my changes with the NPS leadership with the intention of working with a team of career professionals to finalize the proposed changes, the document which became known as the “Hoffman Redline” was sent to the media with comments that mis-characterized and in some cases blatantly distorted what the changes said or meant. The “Hoffman Redline” was also shared with a non-profit organization of National Park Service retirees which had been formed in 2004 and who opposed the reelection of George W. Bush. Stories in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Time incorrectly stated that my changes would:
--More snowmobiles in national parks
--More Off-Highway-Vehicle use in national parks
--More noise in national parks
--Cell tower proliferation in national parks
--Low flying aircraft in national parks
--Mining in national parks
--Prevent park superintendents from stopping activities outside parks that may impact or impair park resources
--More commercial enterprises in national parks
--Commercial livestock grazing in national parks
--Replaces evolution with creationism
--Lowers the standard for impairment
--Changes the role of park managers by diluting their authority
These patently absurd accusations resulted in lead-editorials impugning me and my character in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and their blatant and inaccurate comments were subsequently repeated in literally hundreds of articles across the country. A shameless hatchet piece was published in the online version of Vanity Fair and even the normally even-handed National Geographic magazine published a commentary that repeated the errors without ever calling me or the Department of the Interior to check their facts.
FOR THE RECORD
Here are the answers that were provided to the media--and ignored by the same--in response to each of the false accusations made about the proposed changes to the management policies.
Will the new policies allow snowmobiling in more NPS units?
No. Snowmobiling can only occur where there is a special regulation that allows snowmobile or over snow vehicle use. It is also covered by an Executive Order. The new policies only affect snowmobiling when it is permitted by regulation and occurs on roads that are used by automobiles during the summer and then the policies suggest that in those circumstances, snowmobiles should be managed the same as automobiles so long as they do not cause unacceptable impacts.
Will the new policies allow Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) use in more NPS units?
No. OHV use can only occur where there is a special regulation that allows OHV use. It is also covered by an Executive Order. The new policies only affect OHV use when it is permitted by regulation and then the policies suggest that in those circumstances, OHV use requirements such as driver qualifications, equipment standards and safety requirements should be similar to those same requirements on adjacent lands, and OHV use should be closely monitored to ensure that the use continues to be an appropriate use.
Do the new policies allow more noise in parks?
No. The NPS is very aware that people seek out parks to get away from the daily hustle and bustle and that in many parks visitors have a high expectation of a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. In the new policies, the soundscape policy is clarified to make it clear that all human sounds are not forbidden. It makes it more clear that in certain parks that are located in more urban settings, near airports or other noisy areas; or have within their boundaries parkways, airports, industrial sites, or equipment; or providing historic demonstrations such as use of historic weapons, industrial equipment, musical instruments, or social activism, then certainly portions of those parks cannot be expected to provide a natural quiet experience. Even within large natural park sites, in front country areas of the park the visitors may have a higher expectation of non-natural sounds, even noise, but the NPS will manage as much of an most areas as is reasonable and practicable to create a natural soundscape.
Will the new policies make it any easier for cell towers to be built within NPS units?
No. The telecommunications policy remains unchanged. Cell tower applications must still undergo NEPA analysis and if appropriate ESA consultation and Migratory Bird Treaty Act compliance as well as provide opportunity for public input.
Will the new policies allow more or new low flying aircraft over NPS units?
No. The approximately 120 park units that currently have some level of air tour operations must still work with the Federal Aviation Administration in the development of Air Tour Management Plans (ATMPs) under the requirements of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000. The NPS and FAA work cooperatively in developing the plans and conducting the NEPA analysis. The FAA controls the airspace over parks and is responsible for creating special flight area restrictions. The NPS has expertise in determining significant adverse impacts. Both agencies have expertise in sound measurement and analysis and they work cooperatively in the development of ATMPs. Separately and under a different law, the NPS is working cooperatively with the FAA and stakeholders to bring final resolution to the 18-year effort to “substantially restore national quiet and improve air traffic safety at the Grand Canyon.
Will the new policies allow more mining in NPS units?
No more than the 2001 policies or the 1988 policies. When mining claims have been or are being validated, or were pre-existing valid claims, or were pre-existing active mines, those operations have certain rights to conduct those legal activities. The NPS may and does regulate such activities to minimize impacts and a lawful mandate to prevent impairment. Under certain circumstances or when impairment may occur as a result of mining operations, the NPS may pursue a purchase of or land exchange in order to retire the mining claims.
Will the new policies prevent park superintendents from stopping activities outside parks that may impact or impair park resources?
No. There are a number of laws that may be used by the park superintendent to protect park resources from impacts that may result from activities outside the park unit. These laws include the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Remediation and Liability Act, the Oil and Natural Gas Act, and others. More importantly the new policies encourage park superintendents to employ civic engagement and cooperative conservation principles in order to stay abreast of issues and engage neighboring governments and leaders early in the planning processes in order to prevent activities that cannot be mitigated and/or ensure that activities outside the park boundaries have minimal to no impacts.
Will the new policies allow more commercial operations inside parks?
No. Commercial services that serve the needs of visitors and are determined to be an appropriate use of parks are governed under the Concessions Reform Act of 1998. Concession operations are limited in parks, strictly regulated to ensure minimal impacts, must not create unacceptable impacts, and are prohibited from causing impairment of resources. Most parks have a commercial services plan that is developed with public input, using best available science in order to determine the appropriate level of visitor services to be provided by concession services.
Will the new policies allow more commercial livestock grazing in parks?
No. Commercial livestock grazing only occurs where it was an existing use prior to the establishment of a national park and when specifically authorized by the establishing legislation. On occasion and after NEPA analysis, livestock grazing may be used to address invasive species or restore rangeland to a more natural condition. Recreational livestock grazing such as pack stock occurs in many national parks and is an authorized use especially in Wilderness Areas. The new policies suggest that visitors be educated about recreational livestock uses and the history and culture of this use before they encounter recreational livestock in the park back country areas.
Do the new policies replace evolution with creationism?
No. The only change regarding evolution was to delete references to managing “natural evolutionary process” because evolution which is the outcome of natural selection, by definition, cannot be managed. In the section of the policies that describe the types of publications that can be sold in stores operated by cooperating associations or concessioners, the new polices describe allowable publications as those that increase understanding of natural conservation, interpretation of cultural resources and provide for the inspiration of visitors. The word inspiration was added because a long held purpose of the National Park System is to provide inspiration to all mankind. The NPS protects and preserves a number of cultural sights that have their origins in religion or that interpret aspects of cultures that have spiritual components. However, the NPS does nothing that would either establish or discriminate against a religion.
Do the new policies lower the standard for impairment or park protection?
No. In fact, the new policies further clarify what constitutes what constitutes unacceptable impacts. NPS managers typically manage for a standard of impacts that is well below impairment by avoiding unacceptable impacts. The new policies provide more criteria that enable the park manager to better recognize unacceptable impacts.
Do the new policies change the role of superintendents in managing parks?
It is the park superintendent’s job to make decisions about what uses may be allowed that will provide opportunities for enjoyment and ensure that the resources are kept in as good of condition, or better, for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The new policies provide more clear guidance to superintendents about what is entailed in exercising appropriate use of parks as well as what constitutes unacceptable impacts. The criteria for appropriate use includes many factors in addition to not allowing unacceptable impacts, however, the appropriate use terminology puts both enjoyment and conservation in the affirmative context that is part of the NPS Organic Act of 1916 when it describes the NPS mission as “…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life [sic] therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Moreover, the proposed policies provided guidance on what is meant by the phrase "...in the professional judgment of the park superintendent." Professional judgment is too include consultation with resource professionals and subject matter experts, best available science, civic engagement, public input, and cooperative conservation.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Everything from clothing to cars to banking services now offers you the opportunity to go green; a chance to save the world by being a conscientious green consumer! Notwithstanding the fact that green consumption is an oxymoron, this marketing of the green is not a new phenomenon.
I first observed this trend back in the late eighties when talk of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone was first being discussed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Immediately, wolf products began appearing on the shelves in stores in and around Yellowstone. Images of cute cuddly puppies and anthropomorphized images of wolf families were merchandized with a mixture of American Indian spirituality. How could anybody oppose the reintroduction of these loving creatures long victimized by the evil humans?
And remember Free Willy, the movie that made the humane treatment of captive whales a household topic. And thus Hollywood provided the entrée for the animal rights movement and its first foray into mainstream America.
Fast forward to two years ago, when Happy Feet, the animated movie about penguins and the environment, was released the same month that a consortium of environmental groups petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list twelve species of penguins as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Then last year Artic Tale, a documentary about polar bears and the impact of global warming on their sea ice habitat, is released to coincide with an Endangered Species Act petition to list polar bears as an endangered. Remember the byline to that family film? “How you live affects the way they live.”
No, going green is not new; it is the natural evolution of an environmental industry that has perfected its adaptation to a marketing and consumer driven economy. In fact, I have become convinced that the average environmental organization is 2 parts scientists, 5 parts lawyers, and 3 parts marketing professionals.
And now the mainstream marketing industry has caught on to the marketing of the green trend and is more than happy to play to your guilty conscience for being an American, part of a population of people who happen to enjoy the highest quality of life ever experienced on earth.
Don't buy any of it!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Virtually, every day for the last six months has featured an above-the-fold, front-page stories with headlines that include words or phrases like “recession”, “slumping economy”, “inflation fears”, “sub-prime mortgage crisis”, “housing bust”, “oil at all time high”, “jobless rate up”, and “job creation down”. And, oh, did I mention “recession”! When job creation exceeds expectations, or reports indicate the housing slump may be over, those stories are relegated to the bowels of the Business Section.
A recession is defined as: A period of general economic decline; specifically, a decline in Gross Domestic Product for two or more consecutive quarters. When the media started using the term “recession” 6-8 months ago, we had not yet experienced two consecutive quarters of declining GDP. But, in typical fashion, it has become a self-fulfilled prophecy.
What mainstream media fails to recognize is their enormous power to affect public sentiment and the social responsibility that goes with that power. I am not suggesting that the media ignore real economic news or portray the economy through rose colored glasses. But, they should give positive news equal footing and avoid their propensity for prognostication.
Every time the front page of the newspaper predicts a higher price for oil or gasoline at the pump, they create an expectation. It is like sending an engraved invitation to raise the price to the predicted level. Nobody is surprised, because after all, they were told it would be so.
The Post analysis correctly points out that gasoline costs affect everyone irrespective of economic or social order and those impacts are felt daily. However, I believe that part of America’s fixation on gasoline prices is a direct result of gas stations posting their prices in 18 inches letters that can be read blocks away from the stations. Most prices for consumer goods are much less conspicuous. In fact, it often takes higher than fourth grade math to figure out the unit cost of many items we buy on a daily basis. Imagine if grocery stores posted the price of milk just like gas stations post gasoline prices. Instead of the weekly radio “Pain in the Gas” price survey, we would have to suffer the “Pain in the Jugs” report on prices for skim (regular), 2% low fat (premium) and whole milk (super premium)!
I can only hope that the mainstream media begins to feel the effects of their own public opinion manipulation, and that as home and auto sales decline, so will the advertising dollars from those industries that support the media. I look forward to hearing about the “Pain in the Ads” survey!
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Scientific method is the process by which scientists make observations, take measurements, conduct experiments, develop a hypothesis, and repeat the cycle in order to prove, disprove, or modify the hypothesis. Often this cycle can take a life time of work without any proof of the hypothesis.
Much of the scientific research conducted has resulted in fantastic discoveries and inventions such as penicillin, nuclear power, flight, the Moon landing, computers, and the list goes on. These inventions and discoveries are the result of applied science or research and development. Some discoveries are quite accidental and others are very intentional. What makes applied science different is that it is verifiable by replication and we see the proof in our day to day lives.
There is another field of science that is less tangible. Theoretical science attempts to explain phenomena that are beyond our ability to grasp with our normal senses or it may attempt to project an outcome that we will only know if it is accurate or not after the passage of time. For theoretical scientists the proof of their hypothesis often remains out of reach, at least often beyond their own lifespan. Einstein did not live long enough to see some parts of his Theory of Relativity proven by future experimentation. Other theories have yet to be proven and some are proven to have been wrong.
Scientists often develop scientific models to predict outcomes or support theories. Models typically use a series of proven principles and link them in such a way that they will accurately predict the outcome of certain actions or natural events. The linkages of various principles involve a set of mathematical relationships called algorithms. These algorithms can become extremely complicated especially when trying to develop models to predict outcomes in complex systems such as the United States economy or the atmospheric science that goes into weather prediction models. As a general rule, most scientists will agree that all models are wrong; it is just that some models are better than others. Certainly, very few weather personalities will stake their lives or reputations on the outcome of the weather forecasting models used today. Some of these models can only be run because of the advent of super computers. Climate change models produce projections and not predictions and they are based on the serial or parallel linkage of several weather and atmospheric science models. These models can be so complicated that once a set a of parameters are input into the model, it may take days or weeks for the model to run before the output is generated even on some of the most powerful computers in the world.
A lot of scientific research you hear about today is based on statistical analysis. Often the results are described in average numbers, but we all know that nothing is average. To put it another way, going by the average temperature, one could conclude that by standing with one foot in a fire and another foot on a block of ice, that on average that person would be comfortable. The other often reported result comes in the form of a correlation. Results of independent research projects can be run through a computer model to see if there are any statistically valid correlations. We usually hear the results of this research in short sound bites on the daily news. “Research shows that pregnant women who eat an ounce of chocolate a day during their pregnancy have happier kids,” the announcer happily reports. On some days we hear coffee or alcohol in moderation can be good for us and on other days we hear that any amount coffee or alcohol can be bad for our health. The problem with all of this is that a statistically valid correlation does not necessarily mean that there is a cause and effect relationship.
This brings us to the most dangerous and a growing field of science—advocacy science. These scientists are so fervent in their beliefs about their field of science that they speak about theories in absolute terms. They have abandoned scientific method and integrity. Advocacy scientists will ignore any empirical proof that their theory may not be correct and they cherry pick the results that support their theory. Scientists should embrace different opinions; they should be open to the possibility that their research may have problems; they should be like steel sharpening steel; they should view dissention as a positive part of the process; and they should embrace the peer-review process. Science advocates, on the other hand, revile anyone who dares to criticize their work; they believe the end outcome or goal justifies their means; they will resort to slander and innuendo to discredit a naysayer; emotion replaces objectivity; and anything short of full endorsement of their unproven theory makes someone the equivalent of a Holocaust denier.
When Theory becomes “Fact”
Scientists have been searching over a century for the “missing link” to proves that mankind evolved from apes, and even though not yet proven conclusively, we often hear of new links that seem to point toward the proof of this theory. However, society as a whole has come to accept this theory as fact because so many scientists are willing to say it is so, notwithstanding the fact that the theory has not been conclusively proven.
Science and Faith
A theory is an unproven hypothesis and theoretical scientists often deal in such hypothetical realms that their theory may never be proven to be true or false. We may never know the origin of matter or prove the Big Bang Theory. And, if the Big Bang Theory is true, what does that mean to humans or all life forms for that matter? We may never know. This raises an interesting dilemma for many scientists, especially those who claim not to be religious. If a scientist cannot prove a theory, yet believes the theory to be true, is that scientist practicing a form of faith? Is not faith the basis of all religions? Can some beliefs in science become a form of religion?
Science versus Policy
Science may provide us with the facts and possible remedies, but there may be a number of ways to address any issue based on the scientific facts and other considerations. This is the realm of policy making. Good policy is informed by science, but often science cannot provide the complete answer to the challenge. The science may not be conclusive, or it may even be contradictory. One scientist’s remedy may be another scientist’s problem. Science is usually focused on one aspect of a larger issue and pursuing one recommended scientific course of action may have other more catastrophic results somewhere else. Scientists tend to be specialists in certain disciplines and they break things down into analytical pieces. It is the role of the policy maker to integrate all the science, all the possible actions, and all possible outcomes in order to make decisions that consider all the pros and cons, all the scientific implications, whether the solution is feasible and practicable, and the economic, cultural, and ecological consequences of the proposed action.
It is never as simple as a scientist says it is so. We live in a complex world where the outcomes of any action may be difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict. A good dose of healthy skepticism is a principle that any ethical scientist should welcome. Remember, if a scientific report sounds either too good or too bad, chances are it may not be based on experimentally proven scientific method, or there is a body of science that points to a different conclusion.