Science Strikes Back: The Power Of Data In The Face Of "Alternative Facts"

02/08/2017 07:37 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2017
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The new president and his cabinet are taking great strides to avoid discussions that include data and analyses from scientists worldwide. It is almost as if they fear data (and science). Why?

Probably because copious amounts of scientific data contradict many of their key assertions.

Data are the facts and statistics, the qualitative and qualitative variables that researchers collect and analyze. Data are verifiable, accessible and visible to everyone, and, when we are talking about scientific treatment of data, their analyses have to be clear and confirmable by individuals other than those collecting and analyzing them. Because of this system of checks and balances scientific consensus about data are strong, clear and verifiable by many different people and perspectives.

Data are our best representations of reality, an antidote to “alternative facts.”

By way of example, we can test two assertions by the new administration that are assessable by data.

In the first case, Donald Trump tweeted in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” and in an recent 2017 interview with the New York Times he stated that climate change is a “very complex subject…I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Ok, what do the data tell us?

Climate change leads to significant economic and ecological implications and it has accelerated dramatically in the last 50 years. Data from NASA show that Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere today is at 405.25 ppm, the highest it has been in 400,000 years, and 50% of that increase has occurred since 1950. The ten warmest years in the 136-year temperature record have all occurred since 2000, with the exception of 1998. And, 2015 and 2016 are the two warmest years on record. Ever. The arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 13.3% per decade, much faster than it was between 1980-2000, and the major land ice masses are shrinking at the pace of between 134-281 gigtonnes per year, with the pace radically speeding since 2000. NASA, and others, conducted multiple studies demonstrating that this warming is not due to changes in the Sun’s activity or temperature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world) state that there’s a more than 95% probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet. The human population has gone from less than three-billion people to more than seven-billion since 1950, radically increasing human-produced greenhouse gases (with carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide increasing by 70% between 1970 and 2004), which in turn caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.

Global warming is happening, is caused by humans, and we have the data to show it.

In the second case, Trump stated on January 23, 2017 that between three-million and five-million illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote.

What do the data tell us?

A combination of multiple studies conducted between 2000 and 2014 found a total of 31 known cases of impersonation fraud in over one-billion votes cast in U.S. elections. A recent report by the USA Government Accountability Office states that zero cases of voter fraud were discovered or charged by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division or by any U.S. Attorney’s offices in the United States between 2004-2014. Not a single study to date has found any evidence of wide-scale (or even small scale) voter fraud in the USA elections in the last 40 years (including the 2016 election).

The data are crystal clear. The USA voted as follows in the 2016 presidential election: 65,844,954 votes for Clinton and 62,979,879 for Trump. Trump lost the popular vote by ~3 million legal votes.

In spite of overwhelming data demonstrating these, and other, realities, the new administration continues to assert what they call “alternative facts” in opposition to anything they don’t like, or fear. “Alternative facts” are neither facts nor data, they are falsehoods, more commonly known as lies. The words George Orwell wrote in 1984 seem more relevant than ever: “The party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

The USA must not heed such a command. Our eyes, ears and minds, are the most important tools of a free society. Knowledge is power, data are evidence, and we cannot give them up.