Living In An Age Of ‘Unreason’

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

Sapere Aude
‘Dare to know’

It was called the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment. Lasting 130 years from 1685 to 1815, it was an era when “reason was the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.”

The thirst for knowledge was spurred on by scientific methodology and experimentation. German 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant captured the movement in the Latin phrase – Sapere Aude – “Dare to know.”

We know the path to knowledge is paved with the sacrifices of those who have been called heretics and blasphemers. They have been poisoned, hung, shot, drown, and tarred and feathered for their pursuit of knowledge. Books have been banned and speakers arrested and imprisoned.

Pursuing knowledge that aids our battles against disease, improves medical treatments, makes our food safer, ensures clean air and water, opens our minds to tolerance, and prepares us to meet the challenges of the future, you would think would all be rewarded in the 21st Century – hardly. Scientific pursuit of truth is actively being blocked and punished under the Trump Administration.

Last week, it sent an order to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) telling it that it couldn’t use seven words or phrases in preparing its 2018 budget request. “Vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” were all banned from usage.

These words touch on areas of study and treatment that have been attacked by Trump’s far-right religious supporters – transgender people, gays, and abortion – but also come into play in many other areas of research.

A longtime “CDC analyst, whose job includes writing descriptions of the CDC’s work for the administration’s annual spending blueprint, could not recall a previous time when words were banned from budget documents because they were considered controversial,” a story in The Washington Post said. “The reaction of people in the meeting (where the forbidden words were presented) was ‘incredulous,’” the analyst said. “It was very much, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding?’”

The CDC is considered the premier epidemiological agency in the country, if not the world. It has a $7 billion budget and employs over 12,000 people who work around the globe.

During the same week, it was also reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the superintendent of the Joshua Tree National Park in California to his Washington, D.C., office to chew him out for tweets related to climate change.

That climate change is occurring and that we are primarily responsible for it has been denied vigorously by the Trump Administration. The U.S. is now the only country in the world that is not part of the Paris Climate Accords, which have the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“By bringing Smith from California to Washington, D.C., to deliver the tongue-lashing, he (Zinke) also sent a message to the park service at large,” The Hill reported.

Smith’s tweets talked about the potential impacts of a warming climate on Joshua Tree as well as other national parks. “The tweets were based on scientific conclusions, sometimes citing federal government reports….”

Efforts to suppress knowledge that protects our health and safety have taken an even more chilling turn. Three Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials in three different parts of the country all expressed concerns about the direction the agency is headed under Administrator Scott Pruitt. One said at a private lunch that she thought the nation could be headed for an “environmental catastrophe.”

What the three now have in common is that within days of questioning where the agency was headed, they were all subject to an intense search into any communications they had made using Pruitt’s or Trump’s name. A Republican research group conducted the search and another similar group has been hired to do “media monitoring” of EPA coverage. Some believe the intent is more sinister and aimed at suppressing legitimate concerns.

Recently, American researcher Camille Parmesan was one of 18 scientists to win one of French President Emmanuel Macron’s “Make Our Planet Great Again” grants to study climate change while living in France – all expenses paid. Parmesan specializes in how climate change affects animals.

She is thrilled to be going to France to study because of what Trump’s administration is doing to research in America. “He very, very rapidly has been actively trying to erode science in the U.S.A. and in particular climate science,” she told the Associated Press. “And it’s hard for two reasons: Funding is becoming almost impossible, and in a psychological sense.”

America was once the country that attracted and supported the best and brightest of scientists in their research. No more. The anti-science mentality pervades the Trump administration’s agencies.

“Even with its limited ability to enact legislation, this administration has already proven to be the most anti-science executive branch in modern history,” the Brookings Institute’s Scott Andes writes. “At almost every turn, Trump has chosen to sideline scientists, leave vacant scientific appointments, reduce or eliminate federal independent scientific boards, and appoint anti-science individuals to powerful positions.”

Intellectual and scientific curiosity are taught to us in our public schools from an early age. It is one reason why America has won more Nobel Prizes than any other country. It is a travesty to see them stifled today.

“The principles that Trump aims to defeat include the bedrock tenets of the Enlightenment and of American democracy — that rational thought, informed debate, and measured discourse form the basis of good government,” Suzanne Nossel wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

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