Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts!

Just how depressing have America’s policy debates become? What is the extent to which emotion and ideology have replaced reliance on facts, evidence and data–and what are the consequences of our refusal to confront unpleasant realities?

Permit me to offer just two examples.

In Florida, as you have probably heard, state workers are not permitted to use the phrase “climate change.” As the Guardian wryly noted,

You might have missed it, but Florida has solved climate change. Our state, with 1,300 miles of coastline and a mean elevation of 100 feet, did not, however, limit greenhouse emissions. Instead, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), under Republican governor Rick Scott, forbade employees from using terms like “climate change,” “global warming” or “sea-level rise”. They’re all gone now. You’re welcome, by the way.

It’s pointless to call linguistic distortions of reality like this Orwellian: people tune you out when you use that word and, besides, Big Brother at least had wit. These are just the foot-stamping insistent lies of intellectual toddlers on the grift. It is “nuh-uh” as public policy. This is an elected official saying, “I put a bag over your head, so that means now I’m invisible” and then going out looting.

It isn’t only Florida; Scott Walker’s Wisconsin has a similar rule.

North Carolina went them one better:

In North Carolina, the legislature passed a ruling after the state’s Coastal Resources Commission released an estimate predicting the sea will rise 39 inches along the state’s coast in a century, ABC News reported.

The estimation alarmed developers and seaside residents. If the state was to take action, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said ABC. North Carolina would need to draw new flood zones, build waste-treatment plants and elevate roads, and several permits of planned development projects would be in jeopardy.

So the state’s legislature promptly addressed the problem–with a bill banning the actual measurement of sea levels; henceforth, sea-level rise “may be predicted based only on historical data.”

It isn’t only climate change. For a number of years, Congress has banned federal research by the CDC on gun violence–a ban it extended in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston church shooting that left 9 people dead.

The ban began with the 1996 Dickey Amendment, which barred the CDC from involvement in any research that could be interpreted as advocating tougher gun laws. Jack Dickey, a Republican Congressman from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who was then a junior member of the House Appropriations Committee, authored a rider to a spending bill that also slashed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget— the precise amount that the organization had dedicated to studying gun violence the year before.

Ever since, CDC studies on guns and public health have been virtually non-existent. Dickey has since expressed regret over sponsoring the measure.

Every single day, 89 Americans die from gun violence, and yet we refuse to support research on the causes, effects and consequences of those deaths.

Representative David Price, vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, recently argued that

“Regardless of where we stand in the debate over gun violence, we should all be able to agree that this debate should be informed by objective data and robust scientific research.”

Representative Price is wrong. There is nothing that ideologues and interest groups fear more than “objective data and robust scientific research.” Their most fervent hope is that public policy debates continue to be conducted in the absence of evidence. Their motto is: don’t confuse me with science or fact.

Problem is, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson is fond of noting, science is true whether or not you believe in it. Facts exist whether we accept them or not.

Ignoring reality is ultimately unsustainable.


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