04/11/2014 06:57 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2014

Debasement of Science

Republican politicians are in the habit of labeling science credible only if it supports their positions. If it doesn't, the science often ends up the object of their ridicule.

House Science Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Dana Rohrbacker, R-Calif. provides an example. He punctuated his skepticism of global warming with the droll observation that past periods of Earth's rising temperatures might be due to "dinosaur farts."

To counter the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is real and of major concern, Republican doubters of late are pointing to the nation's recent record cold winter. They contend the deep freeze is proof that global warming alarmists are perpetuating a hoax.

The GOP deniers choose to ignore a fundamental principle of climatology. It is the global climate trend over the years rather than a specific weather event that tells us where the planet is heading. Based on reams of data collected over the course of generations, the temperature trend is warming and in sync with the increase in carbon emissions generated by human beings.

When criticism of opposing scientific views degenerates into name calling, it is usually a tip-off of a position operating from weakness. Another tell-tail sign is rigging witness lists at congressional hearings in order to promote one-sided testimony. The Republican majority on the House Science Committee was caught doing this by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a public interest organization. UCS discovered that the Republican lawmakers, consistent with their cozy relationship with corporate America, were inviting far more private industry scientists to testify than experts from academia, government and public interest organizations. This trend in the unbalancing of views is worrisome because private industry scientists usually defend the relatively narrow interests of their corporate employers. They thus tend to be less objective than their counterparts from academia and the public sector whose constituency, at least in theory, is the general population.

Republican legislators are prone to dismiss scientific outcomes they dislike as merely opinion. But science is not opinion, it is a set of facts which serves as a tool in aiding politicians to formulate policy. Scientists are entitled to have opinions about their work just like everybody else, but should clearly distinguish between their personal views and research findings to avoid confusion.

All too infrequently do House Republicans place competing sets of scientific facts side by side and then select the one that makes a stronger case by virtue of the weight of evidence. It is the fairest and most effective way to utilize science, which by its very nature rarely can provide absolute certainty in dealing with complexity.