Nuisance bears and little beards: Should politics be immune from science?

Mike: Cynthia, the tradition is that people aren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day. Does that apply to lab coats? Because I want to talk about science.

Cynthia: My favorite lab coat is whitish-yellow and I wear it year round, thanks to our lovable dog, Marley. We could talk about why labs shed so much. Or did you have something else in mind?

Mike: That’s probably better saved for grade school biology class. Which would lead to a discussion on education, so I’d say it’s a topic we should hold for another day.

What I’m wondering is how to reconcile scientific inquiry and findings with politics and policy? I mean, we have commercials with Roxanne Quimby’s daughter-in-law saying Paul LePage hates clean water, even though he imposed one of the largest environmental fines in Maine history. The bear referendum has led to a strong “no” position from Maine’s biologists, although it remains a close vote. And I don’t think we have enough ink to cover the ongoing anti-immunization movement or climate change. Whether it’s bears, BPA, or bird flu, should politics be immune from science or thoroughly infected?

Cynthia: “Infected with science” is catchy. I’ll go with that.

Assuming you agree science is the quest for knowledge and politics is the quest for power, my carefully researched hypothesis as an English and Philosophy major is this: The politics of science is for cynics. The science of politics is for people who drink too much scotch.

But seriously, you must be frustrated, Mike. A smart guy stranded on a ship of fools. Republicans who deny evolution or how old the earth is are as embarrassing as Paul LePage hawking climate change as a tourism opportunity. How do you stand it?

Mike: Hey, at least my ship will be free of nuisance bears. The anti-science team in the referendum reminds me of the scene in Anchorman where Ron jumps into the bear pit. “I immediately regret this decision,” say those voters who spurn science only to watch their pets get killed.

Anyway, I really don’t care whether or not someone believes in evolution. The question is, what are the policy prescriptions stemming from their belief, and are those acceptable? The same thing goes with climate change. Continue to try and win hearts and minds, but are there some policies that most agree with? Personally, I think more intensive forestry management will increase annual tree growth — and thus carbon sequestration — while providing jobs and opportunities for Mainers. Sounds good all around, whatever your beliefs!

That is what the what the governor gets at: if the North Sea route opens up, then all of the sudden Maine is a major crossroads in world trade as it moves north from the Suez and Panama canals. Maine will have almost no impact on the emissions of China, India, or Russia, but protesting by ignoring opportunities makes even less sense. Heck, Eastport might be even a stop on the scotch delivery route.

Cynthia: I’m all for looking on the bright side, but cataclysmic weather seems like a high price to pay for shorter shipping routes. And okay, let’s not argue about the science of climate change and just grow bigger trees to eat more carbon. Why not grow bigger hunters to kill more bears? With $7 million worth of doughnuts under their belt, these guys could take down bears like NFL linemen.

The fact is the policy prescriptions of Republicans recently have been anti-science on so many fronts: stem cell research, climate change, abstinence education, mercury pollution, just to name a few. Here in Maine, Gov. LePage’s ignorant pronouncement that BPA isn’t a “problem” is just one example of the scientific horsepower we have running the state. And the price we pay for ideology-driven policies is steep.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a line graph of the declining average IQ of right-wing Republicans over the past 50 years? I wonder if it correlates with rising corporate profits, or campaign contributions.

Mike: I’m pro-graph, which is different than pro-graft. On the latter, I support it with apple trees but not with politicians. But if you want to look at trend lines, why not explore the substantial decrease in firearm-related crimes since my 9th birthday?

Anyway, you really do get to the heart of my original question. Science is important in creating policy, but it should not and cannot be the end of the analysis. Science says GMOs are safe, yet some believe they should be banned. Morals, safety, justice, economics, finances, public opinion, and yes, science, all play an important role in finding the right answer for each challenge we face today. You know, like what to do about Cape Elizabeth’s roosters.

Cynthia: You raise a sensitive topic, Mike. My leafy town of Cape Elizabeth does have a problem of too many cocks and too many guns. But we’re not alone. It’s an epidemic, I’m afraid.

A noise ordinance applied evenly across the board to roosters and guns (and leaf blowers!) seems like an equitable, scientific solution because sound can be measured. If only politics were that simple.