Busting Myths and Marching for Science

Busting Myths and Marching for Science
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In preparation of the March for Science taking place on April 22, 2017, let us review and dispel some of the major myths – or, as they are known today, “alternative facts” – that are harming our society, our country, and our planet. Some of them are so prevalent in our society that they sound like common sense, but they are not. They are untrue, but they are based on powerful metaphors that are ingrained in our brains and reinforced by everyday experience. We were taught many of them in school, but sometimes we must update our knowledge base as new information becomes available. Our parents believed many of them, so questioning them may make it feel like we are dishonoring our parents. This is what it means to be an adult. We have to grow up as individuals and as a society. Our kids are depending on it. We know more now than we did 50 years ago, so it is time to question authority, and teach our own kids what we know to be true.

Myth: Helping people actually hurts them.

This myth is part of the “strict father” morality explained by cognitive scientist George Lakoff in his book Moral Politics. House Speaker Paul Ryan is a proponent of this myth, and his belief in it is part of his drive to cut Social Security, food stamps, and other assistance to the needy. In Strict Father thinking, people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and any sort of undeserved help will make them weak and cause them to lack discipline. This is false. In reality, helping people just helps people. Ryan and others have been helped in their lives in the same way, but are now trying to deny the same type of help they received to others. They need to drop their Strict Father mythologizing and just help people. (By the way, sometimes when they are talking about who deserves assistance and who doesn’t, it actually has to do with the skin color of the recipient.) For a better society: Helping people helps them.

Myth: The Bible is a science textbook.

Many of us grew up learning and appreciating stories from the Bible, and being taught how to apply it to our lives. In many parts of the country, people even adopt a literal reading of the Bible, complete with miracles, magical thinking, and the power of prayer. Sometimes this is harmless, and it is part of the freedom of religion. But if a literal reading of the Bible is leading a large segment of the population or of Congress to embrace climate denial, then it becomes harmful to the planet and future generations. The solution: keep the Bible in church, and use science textbooks to determine policy regarding climate change (but not the science books in Texas and Idaho that have been corrupted by theocrats). For a better planet: The Bible is a nice book, but not meant to be read literally as a science textbook. We should use actual science to guide policy, especially around climate change.

Myth: The Invisible Hand is all-knowing and all-powerful.

Market capitalism can be an amazing thing. Cars, cell phones, computers are all technological marvels, and become more affordable and accessible due to entrepreneurship. However, “market failures” exist, and we need public policy and regulations to address them. Pollution is an “externality” that is not factored into the cost of products. Many activities are unvalued, undervalued, or overvalued by the market. All economic growth is not good. A car crash makes the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) go up, but it is not good for society. In a privatized health care system, a person with cancer drives millions of dollars of economic activity, but GDP only measures how much money is sloshing around. Preventative health care is better for people but not the economy, and a health care system that covers everyone like Medicare for All is even better, even if, or perhaps because, it reduces the role of the “Invisible Hand.” For a fairer economy: The Invisible Hand must be regulated in the public interest, especially when there are “market failures” and “externalized costs.”

Myth: Rich people are better people.

Maybe it was Michelangelo’s fault for doing such a good job on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but somehow many people have conflated two ideas together: 1) that there is an all-powerful Old Man with a Beard who sits on a Cloud and 2) uses the Invisible Hand to manifest his Will. Got that? In other words, rich people are rich because God said so. Or, God made people rich because they are good people. Maybe this misguided idea came about from Paul Ryan’s favorite writer Ayn Rand’s books exalting the cut-throat capitalist. But in reality, Atlas Shrugged is not a guidebook for an ideal society. Rich people are not better people. They just happened to come across money, either by inheriting it, earning it, or in some cases (ahem, Wall Street banksters) stealing it. Many conservatives are supporting President Trump’s Cabinet picks simply because they are rich, despite the fact that many of them have fought against the mission of the agencies they are now supposed to lead. Rich people did not get where they are without support from their family, others around them, and the community assets built over time. For example, research and development paid for by the government was responsible for developing the infrastructure for the Internet. Just because someone is rich does not mean they deserved it or are a better person. A related myth is trickle-down economics. It does not happen. It is a myth used to justify giving rich people more money. For a more just economy: All people are created equal, and rich people should share their bounty with everyone else.

Myth: It’s a choice between jobs and the environment.

For several decades this myth was used to oppose environmental regulations. Despite billions of dollars in propaganda, the economy still became greener over time. Now there is widespread understanding even in corporate boardrooms that green practices are good for the bottom line. Energy efficiency, organic food, and sustainable businesses in many industries are generating billions of dollars and millions of jobs. There is one caveat to this win-win scenario. Infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet. This means a future sustainable economy must take the Limits to Growth into account. We do not yet have such a system, but the economists and policy makers must start looking at things such as a cap on carbon emissions, and returning revenues from a carbon price back to people as part of a basic income. For a more sustainable economy: Greener, sustainable business practices can create jobs and benefit the economy.

Myth: Government programs always fail.

Republicans have been trying to defeat the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) ever since it was proposed. They are now on a mission to repeal and weaken (if not dismantle) the New Deal and the Great Society. Many of their members look forward to government shutdowns and any other way to show that government “is not working.” Sure, they like private enterprise. But somehow this became amplified, perhaps by the response to the government bailouts during the Great Recession (which was actually triggered by private enterprise being out of control through deregulation such as the repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, but anyway). They are not looking to use government as a means to improve people’s lives. They do not believe such as thing is even possible, even though there is evidence for it all around them, and in their own lives. They have read too much Friedrich Hayek (and I guess Ayn Rand). That is why, even when an improvement to Obamacare is staring them right in the face, single payer Medicare for All, they still cannot support it. For better public policy: Government programs can work, and make people’s lives better, but they will need policy makers who believe in it, and this means voters who believe in it.

Alright myths, consider yourselves busted. Now let’s march!

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