The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Dan Carlson
Prairie Ponderings 

Follow The Science


A mantra recited often since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak is “follow the science.”

Sadly, science has become politicized like nearly everything else these days, and the exhortation to follow it with religious fervor is now often paired with the recommendation to make those who question the “experts” pay a price for doing so.

I’ve been actively involved in meteorology and other earth sciences for most of my life. That qualifies me to speak about matters relating to those sciences, but I shun the title “expert” because it’s now largely meaningless.

Every day we see so-called experts speaking as if their word is the end of the discussion. And therein lies a critical truth. True science is that which is open to inquiry, criticism and constant evaluation.

Science once taught spontaneous regeneration, the idea that life itself sprang from certain forms of matter. Rotten meat and feces produced maggots, which turned into flies. And rotting organic matter also produced miasma, or bad air, which “science” said could cause outbreaks of cholera and the black plague. This was the prevailing view until questioning scientists proved it wrong in the 1800s as understanding of germs grew.

It was once settled science that mercury (aka. liquid silver) was a medicine that cured a range of ills from STDs to constipation. For centuries, mercury was a widely used component of medicines and potions across the world. Today we understand it is highly toxic and a serious environmental pollutant.

For thousands of years it was taught as science in many civilizations that our solar system was Earth-centric, meaning the sun, moon and planets orbit around Earth. To say otherwise could have gotten you executed. Along came questioning scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo to courageously prove our solar system is heliocentric – everything orbits the sun.

We needn’t go to the distant past to find instances of “expert scientists” being wrong. In June 1988 the U.S. Senate held a hearing on global warming. Scientific experts testified that, if nothing was done, we would see devastating reduction in global food production by 2021. The International Grain Council projects near record high food production levels of grains, wheat, corn, rice and soybeans for 2020-2021. The same hearing saw experts testify per-decade increases in coastal sea levels of 2.5 inches.

NOAA tide gauge data shows the per-decade increase in sea level since 1988 has been 0.7 inches.

And let’s not forget Al Gore’s 2006 predictions that the Arctic ice would be completely gone by now and polar bears faced with extinction. The ice is still there and the world polar bear population estimated at 25,000 is five times higher than it was a few decades ago.

Here’s the thing about science. It has to be challenged and able to stand up to scrutiny to be declared factual. A scientific theory has to be able to be replicated to be established. If critics are silenced, honest scientists must ask why. And those who dogmatically embrace a prevailing narrative as absolute truth that must be followed and obeyed would do well to remember how many times in history we’ve seen what passed as absolute fact disproven. As for me, I’ll follow the science until I don’t. And if I don’t, it’s because I have legitimate questions. And if I can’t question, I’ll know someone is hiding something.


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