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Nathan Johnson

The Importance of Non-Partisan Science

By Ocean Leaders You Know No Comments

On Wednesday, NPR reported that research studies put out by the EPA may be subject to political review by the new administration on a “case by case basis.” This comes on the heels of a media blackout for federal agencies that deal with scientific information pertaining to our environment, including the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior. The administration also ordered the EPA to remove pages on its website dealing with climate change data and climate education. Which itself followed a (temporary) freeze by the administration on all EPA grants and contracts. And just yesterday, the administration declared that it will likely withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement as early as this week. With just over a week into his new job, the president has sent a clear, unnerving message to the scientific community: Politics will inform scientific research.

While the president’s handling of the EPA seems extreme, the EPA is a government agency and, unfortunately, is subject to partisan politics. But the more troubling aspect of the new Administration isn’t necessarily the restrictions it imposed on the EPA, but rather its seeming skepticism or complete disregard for the value of scientific research. Its refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of man-made climate change, its desire to subject EPA data and research to political review prior to release, and, yes, its Counselor’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” appear to reflect a fundamental mistrust of accepted truths. And while I acknowledge that, for better or worse, presidents mold government agencies to reflect their specific agendas, I cannot remember a president in recent memory who has tried so hard to discredit data shown to be accurate.

The potential case-by-case political review of EPA research is particularly unnerving, since a nonpartisan, peer-review of scientific literature prior to publication is critical to the advancement of science and technology. Any manuscript that has been published in a scientific journal goes through some form of peer-review, where the submission is distributed to a handful of subject matter experts throughout the world. These experts thoroughly examine the purpose, methods, results, conclusions, and cited literature within the manuscript to ensure that incomplete or inaccurate research does not make it to publication. If you know anyone who has gone through this process, they will tell you it can be tedious, frustrating, and even infuriating at times. However, research that successfully makes it through a peer-reviewed process is considered within the scientific community to be legitimate; it has withstood questioning and criticism, and can now be distributed to the scientists and inform future research. This practice of peer-review is a pillar of the global scientific community, including government agencies like the EPA. While it’s by no means flawless, peer-review adds a stamp of credibility to scientific research that is necessary for it to advance human understanding and improve our quality of life.

Inserting a separate, political, review process for research conducted by governmental agencies will chip away at that credibility. One can very easily imagine a scenario where scientifically-sound research is withheld or altered because it contradicts the current Administration’s policies. In fact, the EPA put forth a Scientific Integrity Policy in 2012 to protect the agency from such a scenario. What our president does not understand, though, is that the scientific process is not political. Science has no partisan affiliations, it is not Republican nor Democrat, left-wing or right-wing. Science has no agenda, and does not alter its outcomes to fit the ever-changing agendas of our government. The validity of rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific research is not dependent on a president’s endorsement. The consent of the governed, however, is a necessary prerequisite to implementing any scientifically-informed policy. If we as a country do not stand up for scientific research, we will find our nation’s laws and policies as equally misinformed as our president.

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Show Notes

Nate’s Corner: Big Blue TED Talks

By Ocean Education One Comment

Every so often, when I feel like I should be working but am lacking the motivation to do anything really worthwhile, I watch TED talks. Watching eloquent, well-prepared thought leaders pace along the stage while pitching these “ideas worth spreading” is the perfect cure for procrastinitis. But if you’re anything like me, the talks you normally end up spending fifteen to twenty minutes of your time absorbing were chosen solely on their title and view count. Go browsing with the original goal of learning about sustainable and innovative business ventures, end up watching a video entitled “How to be happy, bilingual, stress-free, and filthy rich in just six hours” with 100 trillion views. That’s just how it goes. So, in order to help TED share some of its underappreciated ideas, I’ve compiled a list of some ocean-related TED talks that are from the past year that certainly deserve more views than they have. Check them out, feel free to let me know what you think of each in the comments section and if there are any that I missed. Enjoy!

The case for fish farming” – Great synopsis of the potential benefits of aquaculture, and how this type of agrarian mentality could drastically improve our world’s fisheries. There’s a reason, however, that some folks are still hesitant to embrace aquaculture and the speaker doesn’t go into too much detail as to how we can address the industry’s current shortcomings. I give it three clams*.

Our campaign to ban plastic bags in Bali” – Inspiring story of how to girls from Bali changed the entire Island’s perception of plastic and became the loudest voice against plastic bags. Four clams!

The four fish we’re overeating and what to eat instead” – If you want to start eating more sustainably and only have fifteen minutes, this is a perfect place to start. Paul’s presentation on the current state of our seafood industry will convince the casual seafood consumer that its time to start looking into options beyond shrimp and tuna. Five clams.

How we can make crops survive without water” – Thought-provoking segment on how science can use genes from “desiccation” plants to address potential instances of food shortages over the next few generations, while also addressing the current GMO-phobia within the United States. Three clams.

Glow-in-the-dark sharks and other stunning sea creatures” – Gotta be honest, this is a talk you have to watch the whole way through. I originally listened to this as a podcast on my phone, and as charismatic and passionate as David is, I just wasn’t feeling it. The visuals really make this segment, and ultimately will change the way you see (nice one Nate) our underwater ecosystems. Three clams.

My country will be underwater soon – unless we work together” – Most of you have never heard of the Republic of Kiribati, a small island nation located in the central Pacific Ocean. Consider this episode an introduction to the island and to Anote Tong, the current President of Kiribati. In it, President Tong makes a heartfelt plea to all developed nations to cut carbon emissions and to consider the effect refusing to do so will have on the Kiribatis of the world. A charismatic, well-spoken, humble world leader, President Tong will have you emotionally-invested in a people and a nation that, twenty minutes ago, did not exist to most people. Four clams.

*I’m rating things by clams these days.