Science Lobbyists – For the Greater Good?
We like to think that we are very well-educated in today’s world. The average human can do a variety of maths, have a basic idea of most science topics, and is also literate. It’s not a bad start, but it’s just enough to be dangerous, not enough to be well-informed and knowledgeable.
The majority of people are well-meaning, but utterly ill-informed about all aspects of any particular argument. And if it’s a controversial topic, people will often give a basic desire, but otherwise go about their lives. This often goes, “Yes, I want to live in a clean, healthy environment,” which gives a nod to the lobbyists to go ahead and do what they do. The average person will get riled up if they hear it’s not going their way, but they still don’t really investigate more into the discussion and controversy to understand both sides.
Lobbyists have a mixed review. Ask anyone what they think, and you’ll likely hear mistrust and cynicism or enthusiasm. There’s not much range in the middle ─ unless the person you ask doesn’t know what lobbyists do. It doesn’t help any that even a political science career overview describes the role of a lobbyists with terminology such as “client’s agenda,” or that there are big organisations such as Corporate Europe Observatory has a strong distaste for them as they are associated with corporate
The problem comes when parts of the stories behind any given issue are conveniently hidden from the public that either give permission or raise hell against any given issue. Let’s take one big issue that have hit in the western world, specifically American where the issues tend to get loud and obnoxious:
The Yucca Mountain case seeks to remove toxic wastes and nuclear wastes from cities to a remote area where it would be buried (within barrels) as it decays. The concept is to remove it from among the middle of human activity to the outside of it so it can decay safely. Yucca Mountain was chosen because it’s stable, away from humans, and easy to monitor. (There are more nuanced reasons, but you can read them here.)
The project stalled out for political reasons. Some will say environmental reasons, but frankly it’s a preservationists view that we shouldn’t put the wastes there because it might harm the environment. Yes, that’s a possibility, but a remote one. There was a lot of work and science that went into selecting a spot, but preservationists didn’t want to trust that. Their own fear trumped science, and thus the lobbied for something different. And now we’re stuck with these toxic wastes in the middle of cities, often where the lowest socioeconomic classes live, injuring the environment and human lives.
Everything comes at a cost. You can find similar dichotomous arguments with two sides in the XL Pipeline that results in train accidents spilling oil over large swaths of the environment and solar panels frying birds as they migrate.
It pays for every individual to have scientific literacy so they can look at both sides of every debate and choose accordingly. It’s time to stop leaving the issues to the lobbyist and politicians ─ they clearly aren’t going to address both sides of the argument and deal with legit concerns that impact more than their own agendas.
Feature image: jjinsf94115 on Flickr.