When Politicans Don't Speak the Language of Science

For the next four days, New York City will host the first annual World Science Festival. This isn’t a middle-school science fair for grown ups. It is an engaging effort to bring complex scientific notions--green innovation, neuroscience, species extinction--into the political and cultural conversations of American life. I think it is an effort long overdue.

Why? When I travel to Washington to discuss global warming with politicians, I often hear phrases like: “Let’s take this slowly,” or “Can’t we wait until we have a different administration or Congress to solve this problem?”

The words I hear from scientists are dramatically different. In conversations with climatologists at the Aspen Institute, engineers at MIT, and IPCC members at the climate negotiations in Bali, I hear things like: “The facts on the ground are worse than our models projected,” or “We had better act now or it will be too late.”

It’s as if Washington and the scientific community speak two different languages.

The Bush administration has done a great deal to construct the language barrier. For eight years, it has systematically devalued scientific inquiry: from deleting whole passages on global warming in government reports to stocking agency review boards with corporate cronies rather than independent experts, the list goes on.

But when it comes to a crisis as complex and potentially devastating as global warming, we cannot make decisions on the basis of corporate interests, polling numbers, or ideology. We need facts. We need data. We need the best scientific minds to shine a light into this enormous, unprecedented phenomenon that is enveloping our planet.