The War on Facts Is a War on Democracy

In a time when facts don’t matter, and science is being muzzled, American democracy is the real victim

 Credit: Gage Skidmore Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Credit: Gage Skidmore Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Jonathan Foley

There is a new incumbent in the White House, a new Congress has been sworn in, and scientists around the country are nervous as hell.

We’re nervous because there seems to be a seismic shift going on in Washington, D.C., and its relationship with facts, scientific reality, and objective truth has never been more strained.

Already, in the opening days of his administration, Mr. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, willfully ignored clear, empirical evidence about the size of the inauguration crowds, and bristled at the suggestion experts said they were smaller than in years past. He seemed almost paranoid, and insinuated that a media conspiracy—rather than simple arithmetic—was trying to embarrass his boss. And the Trump Administration continues to claim, without any evidence, that widespread voter fraud cost Mr. Trump the popular vote, even though this has been thoroughly debunked by numerous, bipartisan sources—including his own lawyers.

Even more bizarrely, Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to Mr. Trump, has offered up the notion that “alternative facts”, rather than actual truth, were in play now. I don’t know what “alternative facts” are, but I think my parent’s generation would have called them “falsehoods” or even “lies.”

But it’s not just absence of facts that’s troubling, it is the apparent effort to derail science and the pursuit of facts themselves.

Ultimately, a healthy democracy depends on science. The pursuit of truth, having an informed citizenry, and the free and open exchange of ideas are all cornerstones of our democracy. That’s one thing that always made America truly great—the fact that, when all is said and done, evidence and the truth would always win the day in America. Without that, we join the league of ordinary nations.

Scientific American