Professor Michael Mann--the climate scientist who is being hounded by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's latest witch hunt--had an op-ed piece in yesterday's Washington Post in which he bemoans the expected Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. One of the first things that the Republicans will do, says Mann, is hold committee hearings "questioning basic science and promoting doubt where there is none."
Well, first off, the Republicans have been measuring the drapes for Speaker Boehner's decorators since last spring. I cannot remember seeing a political party in such disarray, with no message, running such a horrible campaign, acting so cocky and confident. Only in today's awful economic times could they expect victory. Remember their "Pledge?" Neither does anyone else.
But say that the Republicans do win. Is the proper response, as Dr. Mann says, to quake with fright and rub your hands in anguish? Absolutely not.
The scientists and educators need to get into the game--like the University of Virginia has, with its resolute and admirable (and regrettably expensive) resistance to Cuccinelli.
While it is true that a congressional majority can stack the witness list and stage-manage a hearing, a series of show trials on climate science could be the best thing for Mann and his fellow scientists. Right now, the doubt promoters are winning because the scientists disdain the messiness of politics, stay snug in their ivory towers, and decline to fight back. But if the evidence is as strong as they say it is, and I think it is, American scientists should be out there in the glare of the television lights on the Hill, giving righteous battle to the skeptics, exposing them as ignorant and shaming them before a national audience.
In 1925, when the science of evolution was under fire by know-nothing fundamentalists, the ACLU didn't hide. It sought out a test case. And, yes, the Monkey Trial was a circus. And, yes, it was conducted on hostile turf in Tennessee, before a local judge who issued a series of hostile rulings, and stacked the deck against science. Many in the liberal community were aghast. But in the end, the American people got what they needed and wanted--a confrontation between William Jennings Bryan, the head doubter of his day, and Clarence Darrow, representing science and intellectual freedom. The result was a rout. Once Bryan had to speak to a national audience, instead of just his base, he came across as a moron.
Americans watched, rooted, weighed, and decided. And science won.
Scientists and educators--and liberals in general--need to cowboy up. Hey guys and gals, you are under attack. Show your spine. Expose the doubters, and shame them. If you don't you cede victory, and the stakes are too high for surrender.