Guest column: March for Science a voice for INL

The March for Science showed politics and politicians don’t create our truths, writes Jim Francis.

Like many people in Eastern Idaho, I read with concern the Post Register’s story headlined “Trump proposes steep cuts for nuclear.”

Of course, we should have known that Mr. Trump’s words announcing that climate change is a hoax and his presidential policies to reduce EPA regulations and bring back coal as a major source for energy production warned us that “deep cuts for nuclear” were coming. After all, there is no need for advanced energy studies if we are going to burn coal without carbon emissions restrictions. We already know how to do that. We cannot be surprised by the budget proposal described in the article. The president’s proposed energy policy with its potential negative impact on the economy of this community and the purpose and mission of the Idaho National Laboratory explains fully why April 22, 2017, March for Science in Idaho Falls was appropriate and necessary. As one of the speakers at the Idaho Falls rally put it, “It is a sad day when we have to march for science, particularly in this city.”

The more than 400 people who gathered at the pier at Snake River Landing rallied around the National March for Science mission statement asking people to “unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.” No matter what a person’s view of the degree of human contribution to climate change, no one can legitimately say in scientific terms that climate change including global warming is a hoax. Mr. Trump’s words are a denial of science as a discipline that seeks truth through evidence-based studies. His words are a renunciation of the fundamental reasons for funding innovative energy studies.

Those people who rallied in defense of scientific research on April 22 heard quite different words from the speakers who reminded us of the threats to democracy that come out of a political denial of evidence. As Idaho State University Professor Dr. Barbara Frank, put it, science proceeds from the foundation of an analytical method that accepts, with humility, a willingness to adjust hypotheses based on evidence and experimentation. We as individuals, particularly as individuals in a science-oriented community, cannot allow a leader’s words uttered without humility to become our truth.

Another of the speakers at the rally, Dr. Gerald Sehlke, pointed out that scientists must be empowered by society to develop policy alternatives and to explain the potential consequences of each of the alternatives to political leaders who, in turn, choose policies for the nation. This suggested role for science in public policy-making explains why INL should be a significant part of what our society, through our government, chooses to fund. Research, mistakes, dead ends, adjustments in hypotheses are all a part of developing viable alternatives for society’s decision-makers. In turn, those decision-makers, must choose wisely and openly for the common good from among the scientific alternatives.

We stand on the brink of an abyss. A few more steps forward and we fall into that abyss in which a few political leaders, or one political leader, create our truths. At least one of these politically generated “truths” now threatens the mission and funding of INL. The March for Science in Idaho Falls represented resistance to this threat. When we march again, know that we rally and speak out to defend science as integral part of life in our community as well as our nation.

Jim Francis is a National Board Certified Teacher. He is currently retired from a long career of teaching history at both the secondary and university levels.