Councilman Steve Cohn paid a friendly visit to an ESPNA meeting the other night. During a civil exchange about McKinley Village (a toxic development that will force ruinous traffic unto our streets) one citizen noted that both a physicians’ organization and an environmental organization opposed the project.
Cohen replied that he was a lawyer, not a scientist, and said it was often hard to credit scientific testimony because expert witnesses could be summoned to refute it. A fair point.
But wait. Wait, wait, wait..
Don’t we all have an obligation to acquire at least some scientific literacy? Isn’t that part of critical thinking? For example, I am persuaded that the earth is round, that human origins are African, that smoking can cause cancer, that global warming exists, that particulate matter in the air can cripple lung function. This is common scientific knowledge, or should be.
Then there’s Barry Schenk, the famed lawyer who, with Peter Neufeld, founded the Innocence Project. This worthy legal organization used DNA science to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners; eighteen have so far been released from death row. Now this is an instance of a lawyer embracing science to secure justice. It is truly admirable and my guess is that Steve Cohn would agree.
On my block lives a man whom I will call Shane because that’s the kind of name he would like to invent for himself. Shane, in his sixties now, likes right-wing physicist Richard Muller who vociferously disputed global warming. Shane also scorns regulation, thinks he is a survivalist, promises frequently to join his own kind in the mountains but never does. When I first met him he told me he was building a bunker to guard his provisions from the advance of “the mud people.” So now you know. He hates Project Innocence and says DNA is a “bunch of hippie, liberal crap.” So take that, Ancesry.com.
We used to get into arguments but now I try to pretend he isn’t there, which is hard because he’s a compulsive monologist and sits on his front porch talking loudly on the phone to his fellow doomsday preppers. Every year he burns wood and some kind of horrific cheap plastic-smelling junk in his fireplace. The smoke from his chimney fills the street with a broth of gray ooze. Somebody reported him. Somebody else left an air quality leaflet on his porch. He thinks I did it, but I didn’t. However I say to the person I suspect is responsible, Thank you, brother.
Now Shane talks pointedly when I pass by. “Got some snitches on the block,” he says. Once he held up a newspaper photo of a big blizzard back east. “That global warming’s giving everyone the shivers,” he boomed. After this he emitted a prolonged nasal chuckle that is one of the most irritating sounds on this planet.
But next, falling from he sky—a revenge miracle. His science pet, Richard Muller, conducted his own study and became a “converted skeptic.” “Global warming (is) real,” Muller famously stated. “Humans are almost entirely the cause.”
Now when chatting on the street with neighbors I straighten up when Shane is near and say, with great precision, “How about that Richard Muller?” It confused the neighbors at first but they’re getting used to it.
I’m not suggesting in any way that our councilman is like our survivalist. In fact, Shane does not like our councilman and speaks of him with an astonishing panoply of aspersions.
But I am saying that all science is not equal. The physicist who denied global warming was wrong because he had come to conclusions without testing, evidence or experimentation. Bad science. But when he employed the traditional and scrupulous scientific method he came to the right conclusion. Good science.
ECOS and Physicians For Social Responsibility (the groups with such misgivings about McKinley Village) are reputable organizations. Nobody is paying them for an opinion. I hope Steve Cohn considers this. He is an educated man and can certainly exercise rational judgment when presented with what appears to be conflicting scientific information.
And we know from its DEIR that bogus analysis and defective reasoning are part of the pro-McVillage presentation. I hope that is considered as well.
One night while I was trying to watch Cosmos Shane strolled our side of the street talking on his cellphone. It was loud. It was incessant. I know, I know—practically every block has a nut-case. But this particular evening it was acutely annoying. Sometimes it’s enough to make you write your councilman.