Science communication in the USA

Research Cooperative
27/01/17 12:27:06AM

Many reports have appeared this week concerning the gagging of US Government research organisations.

e.g. see report

There are many issues that need to be considered here. As a crop historian, my own comments relate mainly to the implications for food security.

My first thought is that gagging public science communicaton might fit a goal of shifting power from an elected goverment to large private corporations that have the ability to access and use real data independently of public sources.

The aim may be to put ordinary people (and businesses) at the mercy of large corporations that control not just capital, but also information.

My second thought is that most small-to-medium sized businesses do not have much independent research capacity.

They depend on very diverse public sources of information to make short-term and long-term plans about where to invest in plant breeding, farm production, infrastructure, health services, transport services, and storage facilities, and so on. These are also the busnesses that provide most employment, overall, and that add to the quality of life of the communities in which they are based.

Here in Japan, where I live and work, plant breeders are already breeding for new crop varieties to grow under the new conditions created by ongoing and predicted changes in climate.

Of course, we might be hit by a new Ice Age at any moment, or some other catastrophe, but our best bet is to plan according to observable changes and current best predictions, even if they are not 100% certain. To base plans for critical industries on wishful-thinking only would be foolish.

Climate science can never offer 100% certainty, but it can provide a basis for risk analysis, and also for seeing new commercial opportunties.

Not all climate change will be bad for all regions of the world, whether the planet continues to get warmer, or suddenly becomes colder.

If US companies are deprived of access to the scientific information and debate that is most relevant to the US, then this will reduce their ability to compete with companies in countries that do use all available information sources.

Other countries will of course also suffer if there less flow of scientific information that is relevant to productive industries globally - industries in which American investors also have an interest.

Meeting the present needs of world food supply is already immensely difficult, and if US research on climate change is downgraded, then other regions of the world will need to increase their own research efforts.



For climate change, the worst-case scenario from a human perspective is that (a) world temperatures will continue to rise sharply, and then fall suddenly and deeply into another Ice Age, as has happened in previous cycles in global climate, and that (b) we (i.e. humanity as a whole) do not take this worst-case scenario into account while denying or responding to the climate change we can already see.

I personally think that the risks we face are much worse than generally considered. We need to be much more proactive in developing social ideas and methods for coping with sudden changes in the global environment. Our biggest challenges and dangers might be social, not environmental.