Scientia Potentia Est: "Anti-Science" and political discourse in the 2016 presidential election

I'm not a fan of Jill Stein. When I look at people like Caroline Lucas of the UK Green party or Maggie Chapman with Scottish Greens, I see competent leaders who can speak intelligently about public policy issues without resorting to generalized, populist language. And I don't really have a positive opinion about the viability as the Green Party as an alternative to the two-party system in the US at a national level. We're more or less beyond the tipping point for the climate at this point and hoping against all odds to vote the right person into office every four years isn't an effective strategy.

Stein's wavering stance on vaccines have been a flop, for sure - a mumble jumble of OTT populist conspiracy language with an amateurish understanding of the precautionary principle and a social scientist's questioning of why/how people form dissenting opinions about science and public policy. It's not how a successful Green Party leader should talk and I really hope they come up with someone better for next time.

With that caveat, I don't think it's fair to zero in on Stein as the anti-science candidate. Climate science makes it absolutely clear that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground and both Clinton and Trump support massive investments in fossil fuels. In fact, as secretary of state, Clinton played an instrumental role in the bullying of small island states and African nations by the US to destabilize UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen back in 2009. This was at the behest of the Obama administration. 

Environmentalism is frequently characterized as a la-di-da bourgeois rejection of science, reason and progress. At the same time, science is often distorted and instrumentalized by the state and by private interests ("this bus is run on clean natural gas"; EPA investigations concluded that the water in Dimock hadn't been poisoned, the whole West Virginia DEP, communities of color being directed to the results of an insufficient risk assessment process and told they're "misinformed" when they take a stand against environmental racism, FERC's process for rubber stamping national fossil fuel infrastructure projects, the doctor formally employed by Johns Hopkins and the coal industry who made a career out of denying black lung compensation to sick and destitute miners). And as gaffe-prone as she is, Stein deserves credit for being the only candidate to support #NoDAPL and to demand for native sovereignty. 

Tensions are at an all-time high at this point, just days away from the election.  But what we say and how we think about who is and isn't anti-science says a lot more about our own priorities as individuals than it does about the candidates themselves. And if left-leaning citizens still aren't at the point where we collectively decide that saying "climate change is a thing" isn't enough, that pro-fracking is anti-science and indigenous protectors have a more realistic reaction, not just in terms of traditional ecological knowledge but also as a response to the scientific consensus on climate change, we have a grim future ahead of us.


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