David Brin: The case for a scientific nation, part one

  • Published on September 9th, 2012

By David Brin

While the Democrats held their gathering, I kept getting messages: “How did you know offshore banking havens, like the Caymans, would become a big issue?”,  referring to my 1989 novel EARTH, in which secret caches of stolen wealth became the world issue by the 2020s.
Despite grim satisfaction from successful forecasting, I get no charge out of a looming, worldwide class war, (discussed a few posts ago… and we’ll revisit soon).  It could be tragic, wasteful and dangerous, though unsurprising, if you study history and human nature. Fortunately, we’ll have good billionaires on our side – Buffet, Gates etc.  But it will be rough. And enough of that.

Anyway, scores of other matters leaped to mind, during DemCon2012.

Especially the role of science in this election.

First though, a confession. It’s a rough time for contrarians. My liberal friends hear me go on about Robert Heinlein and Adam Smith: how creative competition makes positive sum civilization. Libertarians call me an “eco-nut,” a comprimiser and a “bleeding heart.”  I like to straddle fences, pointing out flaws and positives to all sides, encouraging the pragmatic negotiation for which Americans were once renowned…

… Till we plunged — or were pushed — into phase three of our Civil War.

Alas, despite that contrarian instinct, I must take sides, because one wing of American political life — the same one that was wrong in all the previous stages of civil war — has veered away from the logical, courteous, cautious, pragmatic and intellectually cogent conservatism of giants like Goldwater and Buckley, into fevered fact-aversion unparalleled in the U.S. since the pre-1861 Know Nothing party.

I’d love to see a mature conservative or Libertarian movement present at the negotiating table, standing up sensibly for the role of competition in a mixed and agile civilization.  Adam Smith’s enlightenment  suffers when they are absent. Indeed, perhaps sane conservatives will rise up someday against the hijackers of their movement… as liberals once did once, in the “Miracle of 1947.”

Overcoming the dogmatic followers of Rand, Limbaugh and Murdoch and Prince Waleid, they might bring the spirit of
Smith and Goldwater, Heinlein and Buckley back to the table, reminding us that the state is not always the whole answer.

While admitting that it isn’t always the enemy.

What can end our Civil War?

Nice dream? Well, it assumes there’s still a “table” at all.  Instead of a smoldering pile of ash, in our modern era of no negotiations!

Alack, it will take a rout, a towering, epic defeat this November, for that kind of re-assessment to happen. Hence, every smart person I know in the castes hated by the New Right – scientists, entrepreneurs, economists, teachers, doctors, military officers, engineers, economists, civil servants and so on – had their eyes fixed on Charlotte this week, hoping for more than just some sane liberals to vote for.
What will finally convince those moderate, sane, Buckley conservatives and Smithian libertarians to help end the civil war, by making November a rout?  They need proof that this struggle is not between left and right.  Instead it is between future and past.

What it will take is . . .  a re-dedication to science.

Making Science an Issue

The professional pols don’t want to go there. Even those who like science fear discussing it. If you start talking like a boffin, especially after two decades of Fox propaganda that scientists are cowardly, conniving, herd-following elitist lemmings, you might get hammered as a “snob.” Nor is the other side guilt-free in the dumbing down of American discourse. The left has contributed to this problem, an aspect I’ll discuss in Part Two.
Still, there has been some movement!

For example, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have both agreed to address the questions posed by Shawn Otto and ScienceDebate.org. See their answers here. (And support the effort, if you can!)

Indeed, there is room for some encouragement. Mitt Romney’s answers about climate change have shifted from his adherence to the Fox party line, back to the answers – vague but not troglodytic – he used to give, before the primaries. That is, he went reasonable for ScienceDebate.  Of course he also still voices the “I doubt it” answer, depending (chart it!) on which audience he is speaking before… as if he does not quite realize that we have recording devices in this century.  Ah, well.

Unfortunately, to date, only two members of Congress have responded to the ScienceDebate questions! And House Speaker, GOP Rep. John Boehner outright declined. (See the site, to easily pressure your own congress-critter to answer!) Go look the answers over.  Discuss them here in comments and with your friends.  Make science policy an important topic. And if folks don’t seem to care, ask them why.  Their answers may illuminate what’s at stake.

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Science is the linchpin of this civil war

Next, in Part Two, I’ll talk about how some Democrats, too, have sinned against science, but how – despite that – this issue still distills a crucial difference, one the should decide any reasoning U.S. citizen during Phase Three of the American Civil War.

No, this election is not about left-vs-right. (Not when the economy, stock market, business startups, innovation and every other metric of competitive market health always does better under Democrats.)

No, it is about whether we’ll remember that half of all economic growth since 1945 was propelled by science, technology and innovation.  And whether we might decide, once again, to be a pragmatic, scientific and calmly reasonable people.

Next: The Democrats aren’t perfect either, plus the perfect pro-science polemic, are up now in Part 2!

(Originally appeared at Contrary Brin.)

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  • […] Last time I made it clear whom I blame for 90% of the tragic collapse of American political discourse, and especially the War on Science.  Indeed, I will finish (in a bit) by quoting one of the most eloquent calls that I have seen, for a return to confidence in our future-oriented nation. (See: The case for a scientific nation, part 1.) […]

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