The "Viewfinder" carrying US President Barack Obama approaches Bear Glacier during a tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park on September 1, 2015 in Seward, Alaska.

President Obama addressed the annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Wednesday, highlighting his administration’s commitment to fighting climate change and protecting natural resources. The speech came as presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stake their positions on a range of science-related issues, including climate and energy policy, science education, nuclear power and vaccines. As part of NPR’s “A Nation Engaged” conversation, we’ll discuss the candidates’ positions and the use and misuse of science in political discourse and public policy.

Mentioned on Air:

Guests:
Shawn Otto, co-founder, sciencedebate.org; author, "The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It."
Marcia McNutt, geophysicist; president, National Academy of Sciences; former director, U.S. Geological Survey under President Obama
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication, Annenberg School for Communication; director, Annenberg Public Policy
Center, University of Pennsylvania

  • jurgispilis

    Well,the Earth’s climate has been changing for billions of years – from ice age to tropical rainforest; to polar shift, continental drifts; massive extinctions of life forms. So what’s the big deal?

    • clustero

      I’d like to not be extinct, thanks

    • Sean Dennehy

      The big deal is that humans can’t survive in a lot of these climate shifts.

      • geraldfnord

        More precisely: we don’t know that we can support anything near the population we already have, many places people live (and most of the great places to live, in my arrogant and entirely right opinion), could end-up unlivable, and it’s not necessary that we wind-up that way if we just get smart.

        (Beside that, using those petroleum, gas, and coal resources as chemical feedstock makes much more sense than burning the stuff.

        • Kurt thialfad

          So perhaps the problem is not so much climate change, but rather human overpopulation.

    • William – SF

      Dude, granted humans will go extinct at some point (our sun will make that happen if not a plethora of other B rated movie scenarios,) but if you could do something to slow human extinction would you take it – or, as many experts argue, would you rather accelerate it?

    • microlith

      The big deal is the time scales on which those changes happen vs. this change. There’s a marked difference in a change over tens of thousands or millions of years, versus ~200 years.

      • geraldfnord

        That’s also the fault in the Heinleinian trope ‘Well, beavers build damns, how are our works any less “natural”?’: in time-scale, we as a race are recently closer in kind to am asteroid’s striking than to most other Earthbound processes.

    • chriswinter

      The big deal is the rate of change and the fact that it threatens (via sea-level rise and storm surge) the great many expensive coastal cities and other installations on which our civilization depends for so much. (Not to minimize the other serious problems that climate change presents.)

    • Ray Fischer

      The big deal is that climate is heating up REALLY FAST, RIGHT NOW

  • Terry

    Obama has let in 1 million immigrants from Muslim countries other than Syria such as Pakistan — these are not refugees. Will these 1 million Muslims respect our society’s centuries old embrace of scientific progress and the values that have developed from science or will they reject our science based worldview because Islam imposes and permits only one view of the world and will these migrants consequently create havoc like we see Muslims doing in Europe?

    • Sean Dennehy

      1) Plenty of immigrants from Muslim countries are not Muslim, like my family.

      2) Pakistan has many scientists.

    • chriswinter

      A) Immigrants from Muslim countries have nothing to do with the positions of American political candidates on science.
      B) If you’re worried about people rejecting “our science based worldview”, look to Republicans in Congress.

      • Terry

        True enough.

    • geraldfnord

      Please cite a source for that statistic with which you lead; thank-you.

      • Terry

        Google Obama 1 million immigrants

        • Ray Fischer

          Google “elvis lives”

    • Ray Fischer

      Just another bitter neonazi bigot lying about Obama

  • Sean Dennehy

    It’s become largely clear that even if we are able to slow down carbon emissions, it’s probably already too late to stop the effects of global warming. As a 26 year old, I fully expect that we’ll be dealing with an onset of effects by the time I’m 70. What we need to do is restructure human society to survive in a post-global-warming world. The right is going to have to let go of their love of the free market and allow for a more centrally planned economy. The left is going to have to begin to accept things like nuclear power and gmos. Because if we don’t change in this manner, human society won’t survive.

    • William – SF

      Can you provide suggested readings for your arguments for nuclear power and GMOs, please?

      • chriswinter

        For nuclear power, there are two recent books that make a good case and are fairly short and readable. One is Nuclear 2.0 by Mark Lynas (a former anti-nuke); the other is Climate Gamble by Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen. The basic idea in both is that it’s not feasible to roll out enough renewable power in the short time we have left.

        • William – SF

          Thank you

    • Fielding Mellish

      It’s impossible to get people to work together to save the species instead of themselves, or their children. Evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier. We can care deeply, selflessly about those we know. But that empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight.

    • Ray Fischer

      Translation: Screw you I’m going to make it somebody else’s problem

  • Ben Rawner

    What are the findings on fracking? Where do both candidates stand on these issues?

    • geraldfnord

      Fracking’s a hard one, I believe that it’s basically a foreign policy issue, that the current administration let it go relatively unchecked because it struck at the power of our enemies (Russia, Iran, Venezuela) and frenemies (the Arabian nations).

  • geraldfnord

    Like in a lot of other areas, no-one corrected Mr Trump’s statements on vaccination during the Republican debate because they didn’t want to alienate those among his followers who eat that stuff up with a large spoon. (I hope it’s a long one, for their sake.)

  • Rhettgivesadamn

    Our elected officials have a duty to legislate from solid evidence, not from fear; and they have a duty to protect their constituents, and keep them safe, especially children. Fear does not give people a right to make the world a more dangerous place for the rest of us.

    Our culture; through news stories and other kinds of storytelling, emphasizes individualism to such a degree that it’s often hard for people to see how some choices impinge on the health of others. That’s one reason it’s been easy for people to emphasize personal choice over protecting the community. Vaccines increase herd immunity is based on real science and can be achieved through sound public health policies like SB277.

  • geraldfnord

    I think they don’t cite science partially because of the known effect that presenting facts to people holding erroneous views tends to reinforce those views in many of them.

    Many people also never were taught science, just a bunch of scientific facts, and so both don’t understand when those change, and also think that science is only the opinion of the scientists.

    • William – SF

      Geez, what ever happened to accountability? Why aren’t leaders leading? Why don’t they stand up to erroneous views and challenge them to become informed? Erroneous views are dangerous.

      • geraldfnord

        Leaders don’t get to be leaders without being elected or being reality TV stars; I think they are educated out of the habit of challenging people because pandering to them works, on average, better. ‘The fault, dear Brutus/Lies not in our Stars/….’

        • William – SF

          …politically pandering our way to mediocrity, lunacy, and …extinction, er free markets

  • Noelle

    Why haven’t we heard more about the study linking autism possibly to persistent organochlorine chemicals in the environment? Maybe some parents feel they have more control over vaccines than chemicals released in the environment decades ago?
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-08/du-cbd082216.php

    • geraldfnord

      A very good point: people, for example, would rather blame their problems on shadowy entities of dubious reality who can be appeased, or fought, or at least known—God, Satan, the Illuminati, the Space Masons, the Elders of Zion, Num-num the Dog Baron, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and Connie, Bad Witches—than accept that very often Stuff Just Happens.

  • Robert Thomas

    Three times on August 31, I heard that the NIH had probably erred in promoting a map of Zika diagnoses in Miami Beach near Wynwood. The map was thought to have possibly mislead residents into thinking the virus could not be acquired outside this contained region of about 500 feet by 500 feet (about six blocks), leading to a false sense of security.

    However, Three Times I heard the NPR announcer describe this map as depicting an area of five hundred square feet (the area of a two car garage).

    This is far from the the first time that an obvious case if complete innumeracy among journalists has made and perpetuated a startling error – in this case, by a factor of five hundred – that they demonstrate no ability to detect or correct, over several broadcasts. What’s the solution to this problem?

    http://www.floridahealth.gov/_documents/newsroom/press-releases/_images/072916-local-zika-map.jpg

  • J C Miller

    This dialog seems so naive given political realities. How many of the 118 odd million folks who voted in the 2012 election do you think have the vaguest idea about evidence based reasoning, no less the the difference between inductive or deductive reasoning? How do you make evidence based reasoning emotionally appealing?

    • geraldfnord

      Don’t hate them. A top-down society is not really built for critical thinking at any level but the top, and there (since underlings never tell their bosses the complete truth, out of fear) their data are corrupted by hierarchy. I don’t think there is an active conspiracy to eliminate rationality and dispassionate observation, but it means that at every level there is great incentive to discourage those habits.

      Shorter: Some of the same people who say they ‘believe in education’ remonstrate with a back-talking child by shouting ‘Now don’t you get smart with me, young (lady|man)?’.

      • J C Miller

        Ya, discouraging.

  • geraldfnord

    It’s almost funny: Trump very often will not even own his claims, famously saying instead that ‘People are saying that….’—and then, the news media report ‘Trump said….’

  • Robert Thomas

    One basic problem with using assertions from scientific inquiry as cudgels in public discourse is that the most recent scientific results are often the least well supported.

    Appearance of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal does not confer rectitude for its conclusions, only that the methodology was orthodox and that the processes described in the inquiry were legitimate and proper.

    In contrast, journalism wants to report what’s newest and most surprising.

    “Emerging Science” is generally a euphemism for Bad Science.

  • amyj1276

    The anti-vax women who was just on is THE perfect example–a textbook definition–of the kind of delusional thought that the panel is talking about.

    • Noelle

      I wish she would read this and consider persisting organochlorane chemicals instead as a possible cause.
      http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-08/du-cbd082216.php

      • KWick

        Thank you for sharing!

    • Hank Ibser

      Many who question the widespread use of vaccines are villified for being anti-science, and there are undoubtedly some that are anti-vax and anti-science. For what it’s worth, I consider myself to be a staunch supporter of science and an advocate for safe vaccines. If we must be black and white, I’d say pro-science and pro-vax. But really I think one of the strengths of Forum is that people can voice opinions that can be evaluated based on the strength of their arguments and analysis without undue consideration of the beliefs of the person making those arguments.

      Vaccine efficacy is reasonably settled science, but many who are pro-science also believe that there should be more research into vaccine safety. Like many government agencies, the CDC has been infiltrated by people with financial interests in the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry has enjoyed de facto immunity from lawsuits since the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program started in 1986 (see for example, a Wall Street Journal article http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123535050056344903) in spite of nearly $3 billion spent in thousands of settlements for vaccine injuries by 2010. This in spite of the difficulty in showing a causal relationship between a vaccine injection and a particular injury, and about 2/3 of claims are denied. http://www.nvic.org/injury-compensation.aspx

      One of the most eye-opening things I’ve read on the subject is the Supreme Court case, Bruesewitz v Wyeth, especially Sotomayor’s dissent (starting on p30 https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-152.pdf). In this case the pharmaceutical company Wyeth in fact argued that their vaccine is “unavoidably unsafe” in order to make the case that they should continue to enjoy immunity from lawsuit. Pretty much any drug or medicine carries some risk, and rather than insisting that vaccines are proven to be safe, we should have a reasoned scientific discussion about what those risks are and whether they are worth the benefits from the vaccines. The benefit may be worth it for some vaccines and not others, and the risks may be different for different children. Transparency and accountability must be part of this process or there will continue to be those who do not trust the pharmaceutical industry making tens of billions of dollars from vaccine sales annually. To use ad hominem attacks against those who have spent time to research the science and law behind vaccines does a disservice to the scientific method.

      • KWick

        You have my highest respect and I appreciate your comments.

      • Robert Thomas

        People have the freedom to homeschool their children if they are suspicious of improper risk evaluation concerning required vaccinations. Those in the majority who accept the well-reasoned arguments of health professionals – in effect, those whose majority opinion respects the expertise of such professionals – on the other hand feel unreasonably imperiled when a minority view threatens the health of their children.

        For many people, scientific inquiry undertaken by civil institutions of government is, due to political bias, as suspect as others think commercially supported science has become due to financial encumbrance. The problem therefore is that people are increasingly unwilling to allow that with respect to some technical matter or other, other people are simultaneously better trained, better informed and also adequately trustworthy.

        The only entities insisting that some medication be “proven” safe or that it has been so proven are legal ones. In courts of law, the meaning of “proof” is explained and well defined specifically for such venues (specified standards include “reasonable doubt”, “preponderance of evidence” and so forth as deemed appropriate). Scientists, on the other hand, will freely admit that no conclusion drawn from scientific inquiry can ever be proven. Clear and convincing evidence is as much as can be offered. Evidence of this quality is sufficient for reasonable people to proceed in the world.

        • Hank Ibser

          Showing that something is (reasonably) safe is hard. From data, often the best you can do is fail to detect a hypothetical effect. The reasons that you may not detect something are varied – you may have insufficient power in a hypothesis test due to small amounts of data, observational rather than experimental data, you may not be looking for the right effect, you may not be looking in the right time frame, etc. I have looked, but been unable to find, “clear and convincing evidence”. If you have particular references that you believe are clear and convincing, I’d be very interested. Most of the information on the CDC website refers to self-reported data through VAERS and that is easily dismissed as observational, with no control group to compare to. It may be biased either for or against vaccines due to individuals reporting injuries that have nothing to do with vaccines and also due to individuals not reporting injuries that they have been assured have nothing to do with the vaccines. Also long term effects may not be captured by VAERS. The funded research looking for possible side effects of vaccines is generally done by people who have a financial incentive not to find anything, believe that they will not find anything, and believe that any research that casts doubt on the safety of vaccines will have the unwanted effect of scaring more crazy anti-vax people into not vaccinating their children. To combat the pressure to not find anything, we should have financial pressure (eg greater ability to hold pharmaceutical companies financially responsible for vaccine injury) or regulatory pressure to make vaccines safer. To me, the first step is to acknowledge that there is some risk associated with vaccines and that this risk should be openly studied. I believe we are generally moving in the right direction, but the process toward safer vaccines is slowed by those who insist that they are safe. I encourage people to read the National Academies Press (created by National Academy of Sciences) book, Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality (2012). It’s free online, here’s a link to the conclusion: http://www.nap.edu/read/13164/chapter/15
          From that conclusion: “the committee concluded, for most analyses, that the evidence is inadequate to accept or reject a causal relationship”. We should be working toward gathering more data on vaccine safety and using that information to make vaccines safer.

      • Ray Fischer

        You get an eye roll for your conspiracy theories.

  • KWick

    Yes – the public is skeptical about science due to financing and the impact on fiduciary bias.

    Some believe either side of the vaccination causing autism issue could be “proven” with the appropriate funding.

    Similar to the intrepretation of the bible.

    Until science knows the exact cause of autism, vaccinations can not be ruled out as having an effect.

    From a mother her watched her daughter have an immediate temperture spike, obvious delirium, and an apparent personality change directly after receiving the shots and 10 yrs later, now, being diagnosed with Asperbergs.

    But then again, I’m just a Mother – not a scientist.

    • amyj1276

      Perhaps you should stick to your day job, then, instead of making pretty silly, yet completely false, statements in public. Perhaps you don’t recognize this, but you are who they were talking about on this show. I suppose that we could “disprove” climate change with the appropriate funding, too. SMH. For the record, in science, we can never “prove” anything; we can only disprove things. And the idea that vaccines are in any way related to autism has pretty much been disproven.

      • 0charles

        Perhaps it is you who needs a refresher course in “science”. One generally can not disprove something based on finite evidence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Vaccines have not been proven to be a cause of autism. That does not mean further research will not find any connection.

    • Ray Fischer

      Another non-scientist with wrong opinions.

      You can rule out vaccinations by noting that autism rates increase as vaccination rates decrease.

  • karaj lost coast

    original song about climate change, climate of denial, posted for paris conference. much work ahead to meet the spirit of the agreement. check it out! and share as possible…

  • Ray Fischer

    On one side: Trump, conspiracy crackpots, uneducated and fearful, paid oil company shills.
    On the other side: Clinton, facts, scientists, smart people

  • wandagb

    20 Questions for the Presidential Candidates (NPR)
    Question#19. Immigration: There is much current political discussion about immigration policy and border controls. Would you support any changes in immigration policy regarding scientists and engineers who receive their graduate degree at an American university? Conversely, what is your opinion of recent controversy over employment and the H1-B Visa program?

    This question and its phrasing smells of lobbying efforts by advocates of open borders for cheap engineers. The H-1B program is a sham, one that kills job opportunities for American citizens and throws out of work those older than 35. There is NO shortage of tech workers in this country. There is only a surplus of companies happy to throw Americans under the bus to maintain an endless supply of cheap, young tech-braceros.

  • SwagMan21

    its a scam

  • SwagMan21

    scam

  • SwagMan21

    all fake

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor