But one of the arguments these Fox News people, you say, will make is that when scientists express political opinions, they question the motivations behind the research they are promoting. Do you fear that if you are so open you will become even more vulnerable to this criticism? You’re only in the political fight now, aren’t you?
I think we over-respected the idea that we should stay out of this. Check out what this has done for us. It brought us climate denial. It brought us creationism. It banned us from doing stem cell research. This is all a cost to scientists who say, “Oh, we’re just going to sit here in our white coats and let people close what they want.”
How can you convey this to someone who is unwilling to hear? It’s a complicated concept – everything has political implications, but doesn’t it necessarily endanger work?
Good yes. I mean, if you are making up facts, you are wrong. Excellent scientists and excellent journalists do not invent facts. The way these facts are presented is done by people who have their own ideas and things that they want to convey. It really comes down to: is this an accurate representation of the facts? If so, it needs to be recognized and addressed. That’s why Bob Woodward has the president on tape who says, “I’m trying to downplay this, it doesn’t just affect the elders” – no one tries to argue that he didn’t say those things. If there is a relentless persecution of the facts, that is what we should address. The facts say something about where we are in the world.
And you think the President and his spokesmen are deliberately misrepresenting these facts. This is not an incompetence or ignorance.
Good yes. I mean, I think the President’s comments on Woodward confirm that it is on purpose.
They think they are not open to changing their minds. You couldn’t just show them a really good PowerPoint and take them around.
Correct. That’s a great way of saying it. I think we all suspected so, but the power to hear the President’s voice confirm it is, as I said, psychologically devastating.
Have you had a setback from other academics, taking a more aggressive stance and being openly political?
You know, there are some readers of our magazine who write to me about something like this quite predictably. It’s small numbers. I think I was trying to create a voice for science. Of course there is not a single voice for science, but I think scientists have great coherence in all of this. I get a lot of confirmation from other scientists.
What would you like to see next if you want to inspire change in scientist behavior? What do scientists have to do?
It has to deal with the political forces. Our little diary is very, very important in the world of science. But if a lot of people read one of my editorials, that’s 100,000 people. Ben Shapiro gets 50 million people to look at his Facebook posts. We do not have the opportunity to enter public consciousness on our own. So we have to become partners. And here this apolitical matter falls apart again. science and scientific publications do not reach the public consciousness on their own. Even excellent science journalism doesn’t get as much resonance as overt political stuff. So we kind of have to work with the people who can develop that type of audience. We sure can’t do it alone.