Why March for Science?

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By George Lakoff –

The enormous role played by science — especially government-sponsored science — in our everyday lives is barely appreciated.

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Start with modern medicine. We, the public, paid for it through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and research universities where the medical researchers, surgeons, doctors and nurses were trained, and where tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) developed. Modern drugs were also developed through basic research sponsored by NIH. Modern medicine is the dividend of our investment over decades in medical science.

Next, computers. Computer science didn’t just appear. It was developed through grants from National Science Foundation (NSF) and Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARP). The Internet was developed by the Defense Department. It was originally called the Arpanet. Satellites were developed through NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Defense Department, with vast amount of new science: rocket fuels, physics, new materials for rocket shells, advances in radio communication, and aerial photography.

Cell phones and GPS systems depend on a system of satellites run by the Defense Department, with four satellites accessible from any point on earth, electromagnetic waves traveling at the speed of light and requiring the physics of relativity, and switching equipment able to receive and pass on signals within nanoseconds — billionths of a second. A millionth of a second off and your cellphone call is hundreds of miles off. Cellphones are required by business all over the world. American science is supporting not just personal communication but the economy of the world!

And then there is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): No more ozone hole. No more acid rain. The air in Los Angeles is very much cleaner than it used to be. The EPA’s information is valuable beyond measure.

It has scientifically measured and tracked lead in the water — not just in Flint, but in many cities. It has measured mercury levels in the oceans and in fish. It has alerted us to the effects of global heating, effects that arise from the systemic complexities of the global ecology. Effects like droughts, floods, monster storms, and extreme temperatures. It has monitored poisons in our air and water put there by corporations that have been irresponsible, greedy, and just plain inefficient and careless. Those poisons threaten our food supply because they kill bees that are responsible for 1/3 of our food supply. Mercury in our oceans makes many fish dangerous to eat.

EPA regulations issued and, until recently, enforced, are all that affords us protections from man-made poisons. Every regulation eliminated is a major loss of protections for the public. The administration’s plan for eliminating regulations would wipe out most protections from poisons and other threats.

The Defense Department has issued a report that cites global heating via the use of oil, gas, and coal as a major national security threat. Why? Droughts, and oil, and rising seas start wars. Global heating is matter of life and death in all sorts of ways. It is the moral crisis of our age. Reversing it requires science more than ever!

The positive effects of science on our lives are everywhere. And the needs for more and more responsible science are also everywhere.

Notice science!

And how it has made possible so much of contemporary American life.

Then march for science — because it is under political threat like never before.


George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. Republished under a Creative Commons license from GeorgeLakoff.com

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.