The Role of Science

The Humpty-Dumpty Axiom

 

Rejecting, ignoring or denying science does not eliminate the inevitability of its influence. Any laws, rules, comprehensive plans, regulations, codes, policies, orders, mandates or directives based on a lack of scientific understanding will over the long-term likely cost society more than the money these actions were originally designed to save. 

It is much easier and less expensive to break things than it is to fix them after they are broken.

In fact the latest scientific thought about irreversibility is suggestive that “fixing” to an original state may in fact, for all practical purposes, be impossible*.

 

We can however direct our efforts towards emulation of previous conditions with hope that some degree of rehabilitation can be gained, and that new dynamic equilibria established will offer stability with benefits similar to those before the system was disrupted.  

As an example consider the channelization of the Kissimmee River in Florida, which was completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960’s as part of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project  (C&SF). The intent of the project was to reduce flooding and accommodate agriculture and development.

However, instead of adding value to society, this channelization caused substantial damage to important environmental and  economic attributes in the region, and stands as testimony to the veracity of the Humpty-Dumpty Axiom.

The Channelization of the Kissimmee River in the mid 1960’s resulted in notable environmental disruption. Efforts are now on-going to return portions of the channel to its serpentine flow path. This photo shows both a channelized section and remnants of the historical “oxbow” pattern which is in the process of being reclaimed.  Photo by South Florida Water Management District 

The cost of this channelization, which is now recognized as a scientific and political mistake, was far less than what is now being spent to return the river to a semblance of its original state.

 

In addition, the costs of reduced property values, lost tourism revenue and threats to human health have resulted in debilitating economic as well as environmental consequences. The same is true of the Everglades and Lake Apopka in Florida. There are of course many other examples 

We need to protect ourselves and our posterity from such costly mistakes by more seriously considering science when developing public policies and projects. We must trust solid scientific evidence and apply scientific methods when considering any proposed action.

 

This of course is easier said than done. Scientists, being human, are vulnerable to bias towards their moneyed and/or bureaucratic supporters. 

Now is the time to trust solid scientific evidence and apply scientific methods in developing policy related to the scientific credibility of any proposed action. This review might be analogous to the economic review performed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but from a scientific perspective.         

 

We can no longer afford to make decisions based upon bad or non-existent science, lest we unfairly - and possibly illegally - impose upon the welfare of our posterity.

  

*Prigogine, I. 1996. “The End of Certainty--Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature.” The Free Press, New York 

ISBN 0-684-83705-6