Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pope Francis, Climate Change, and That Evil Liberal Scientific Agenda

    I have a confession: we scientists do have an agenda.
    It's learning.
    We like making discoveries. I'm a graduate student at MIT; of course I want to synthesize a cool new catalyst. Biologists want to discover the cure to cancer. Ecologists want to figure out a way to stop climate change, and neuroscientists want to understand how our brains work. Discoveries are our agenda.
    Moreover, in our private lives, I'm sure every one of us scientists has a social and political agenda. We're human, and we feel and believe things things as much as non-scientists.
    What we don't have is an agenda that mixes our evil liberal ideology with our science.
    Really. I promise.
    Science is mostly gathering and analyzing data. When neuroscientists discovered that transwomen brains function more like ciswomen brains, and that transmen brains function more like cismen, that's called data. Data is fact. The interpretation - that transgender is a legitimate identity and that people aren't lying when they say "this is how I am" - can be debated. The similarities found between transbrains and cisbrains, however, are not up for debate.
    Likewise, when ecologists and geologists discover that the earth's climate is changing, that's data. The cause and consequences may be debated, but you do not get to deny the data.
    So we can debate Pope Francis's encyclical all we want. We can disagree with his interpretation all day long.
    What we cannot do is deny the facts- climate change is real. And yet...
    So many conservative Christians - the community I hail from - do. Because scientists transform the magic and mystery of the world into facts, many Christians assume we are attacking religion, which is fundamentally associated with invisible, supernatural mysteries.
    Except, I'm a Christian myself. 33% of us scientists do believe in a god, and another 18% in some sort of higher power. So, while scientist may be less religious than other American populations, it's hardly accurate to say that science has an anti-religious agenda. 
    Basically, science is not a crutch to be twisted at will, as I was told earlier this week. The scientific method relies on skepticism and repetition and fact. Yes, there's interpretation, but typically we go with the simplest interpretation in accordance with Occam's Razor.
    So Pope Francis is not betraying the Christian faith when he says we are facing a climate crisis. He isn't siding with a liberal, anti-thiestic agenda. Rather, he has read and interpreted a deluge of scientific data as accurate, and decided that, as "the earth has been given to us" by God, we should care for it.
    Trust in science is not a betrayal of faith. It is not a political decision, or at least, it shouldn't be. Science is merely our attempt to discern facts about the natural world.
     Yes, we scientists are flawed and we will misinterpret and make mistakes, but that's why peer review and verification exists. No, the scientific method is not the be-all, end-all of reality, but few scientists would claim it is. Yes, we can, and perhaps should, be skeptical of scientists - and religious leaders and politicians, too!
    What we cannot do is dismiss people, whoever they are, as driven by an liberal, evil, anti-thiestic agenda just because it upsets our notions of how the universe works. We cannot deny facts just because they challenge us.
    Because then we're the ones motivated by a dangerous agenda - pride and trust in our own beliefs as fact, when all data contradicts us.


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