Sidelining scientists costs lives

Mike KnaakColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

We have a science problem.

A vocal minority of Americans, egged on by political leaders at the highest levels, continue to ignore basic science and long-standing public health practices to deal with the pandemic.

Face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand-washing slow the virus’s spread. Instead, the non-science types talk about a hoax, a miracle drug (that doesn’t work) and are happy to breathe all over each other at bars and rallies.

Contempt for science is not new. Some of these same folks deny climate change and argue there are two sides to the issue despite one side based in scientific evidence and math and the other “side” based on magic. In the classroom, the vocal conservative minority places evolution on the same level as creationism.

Defying science and math drives many public policy decisions – past and present. How long did it take to convince people that smoking caused cancer? That seat belts and airbags reduced traffic deaths? That citizens in counties with universal health care live longer, healthier lives? That laws banning battlefield weapons and requiring background checks actually result in fewer gun deaths?

Now we hear Covid-19 cases are not really increasing…it’s just that we’re testing more – ignoring that hospitalizations and percent of positive tests are rising instead of dropping.

By that logic, the best way to cut down on undocumented immigrants isn’t to build a wall. Instead tell Immigration and Customs Enforcement to quit checking papers.

We are lacking a unified message and serious national strategy to control the pandemic. Instead, Donald Trump punted the problem to governors and mayors. As a result, we have a garbled message and patchwork policies.

While a graph shows Europe’s cases dropping dramatically from a peak in April, the U.S. graph shows a slight drop and then a sharp increase. Most of the rest of the world has controlled Covid-19 spread but in the United States, the bodies keep piling up.

Trump blocks the real scientists and public health experts from speaking to the public about facts and instead rolls out Peter Navarro, a conservative economist whose previous experience includes peddling fringe economic analysis on cable TV.

In addition to ignoring science for public policy, we have another science problem. Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack and behind many other advanced industrial nations on standardized tests. Our 15-year-olds rank 24th in science and 38th in math. Our competitors in innovation and commerce – Singapore, Japan, South Korea and most of Europe – beat us. In math, we’re behind Malta, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovakia.

Economists and educators observe students in the United States tend to be less motivated to perform well on the tests compared with teens in other countries. There’s mounting evidence the gap in scores between countries reflects a gap in effort as much as it does a gap in achievement.

Do our students perform poorly on science and math tests because a vocal minority of adults don’t care about science? Or is it the other way around? Do our leaders ignore science and math because they failed to master the basics when they were students?

Either way, the world has voted.

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman will probably move the rest of his season to Toronto and Edmonton because Canada believes science is real. The European Union banned most travelers from the United States because this world’s wealthiest country, rich in expertise and resources, bungled bringing the pandemic under control. Countries who made the safe list were judged on a mix of scientific criteria that include infection rates and the credibility of public health data. Meanwhile, we’re lumped in with Russia and Brazil, whose responses were hampered by their own leaderships’ disdain for scientific advice and empirical evidence of the threat.

The last few months should stick a fork in the absurd notion the United States enjoys a monopoly on brilliance.

Author: Mike Knaak

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