This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:
For the sake of argument, let’s just suppose that it was the scientists who dictated how Idaho’s politicians perform their jobs.
Data-driven scientists would insist that the Gem State leaders follow evidence, solve problems, not worry about bumping voters out of their comfort zones and ignore biased special interests.
With scientists in charge, Idaho’s blue ribbon committees would actually study the issues — not serve as a tactic harried leaders deploy to delay making decisions.
Fact-laden governors and legislators would educate their constituents — not pander to them.
For Idaho’s politicians, peer review would mean learning from their colleagues in all 50 states — not just Utah.
If scientists were calling the shots, you might see expertise rewarded at the polls. For instance, the holder of a doctorate might get five votes; someone with a master’s degree would get three; and a person with a bachelor’s degree could vote twice.
You can imagine the howls of protests under the state Capitol dome.
Politics involve compromise. It’s about the building and nurturing of coalitions. This is psychology, not physics. It’s an art, not a science.
Everyone is equal under the law — from the most accomplished scholar to the high school dropout.
And to subject the process of democracy to hard and fast scientific principles would deprive the public of its say.
So why does the reverse make any more sense?
Why is it acceptable for Idaho politicians to swap out the scientific method for the passions of the moment and the beliefs of the uninformed?
Case in point: The Legislature’s apparent insistence on rewriting public school science standards dealing with climate change.
Earlier this year, lawmakers used their rule-making authority to block five such standards.
Since then, a panel has been crafting a replacement. What emerged last Friday ought to make Rep. Scott Syme, the Caldwell Republican who led the charge against the original climate change standards, ecstatic.
Which, of course, is the point.
When the Legislature gets the final word next winter, it will encounter proposed rules very much to its liking.
Scientists endorsed the old section: “Emphasis is on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.”
What’s so outlandish about that? After 250 years of industrial activity, rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and a near-consensus among the scientific community, it’s clear human behavior is altering the climate.
In true Orwellian fashion, the politicians have replaced that concept.
With white space.
When facts conflict with Idaho legislators’ beliefs, erase the facts.
Scientists wrote standards that link “human activity” with “adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, over-exploitation, habitat destruction and introduction of invasive species.”
Politicians resorted to some choice euphemisms such as mitigation, habitat conservation, reclamation and — in place of overpopulation — “understanding the effects of population growth.”
Scientists say that if any student is going to understand how the climate is changing, he has to consider human-generated greenhouse gases, the quantity added to the atmosphere each year and how the oceans are changing as they absorb these gases.
Politicians, however, want standards that speak in terms of humanity intervening to stop climate change. And what about the all-important role of the oceans?
More white space.
Fortunately, the state standards merely impose a floor; they can not stop a dedicated science teacher from informing her students about how science works and what it has added to human knowledge.
The role reversal is not complete. Politicians cannot teach science; scientists cannot make laws.
Scientists know that; funny how the politicians don’t.