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Scientists have become just as credible as used-car salesmen

My SideGlenn Vawter

Bart Levin’s letter in a recent newspaper (Feb. 24) stated “(Yes, there are an army of people out there making a living off environmental advocacy), and the politics of fear.”Mr. Levin also referred to his reading of a novel by Michael Crichton – “State of Fear.” It brought to mind how our culture has changed in the country, and in the world, over the past decades. Fear seems to be the only way to get the public’s attention, or at least that is what the media, our politicians, scientists and special-interest groups believe.The public does not know who to believe in the scientific community. He who pays its scientists the most and has the media’s ear gets the attention of the public and is deemed to be right, irrespective of the technical facts.This is especially true when the scientists can portray disaster, doom and gloom. It is not just the environmental community that is using these tactics, even though they seem to lead the pack in distorting facts and using fear to their advantage. Government, university and foundation scientists also have to get funding and know where their bread is buttered.It is ironic that after World War II scientists were one of the most trusted groups in our nation. Now, because of the politicization of science and exploitation of scientists, they have fallen into the group with politicians and used-car salesmen. Free enterprise, as great a system as it is, is part of the problem. Scientists now have to produce marketable results in the short term. An example is the National Laboratory scientists. After the end of the Cold War they lost their mission of producing better and better atomic weapons. The federal bureaucracy decided to convert them to environment researchers, and they then had to justify their existence. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project is a prime example of what is going on in this arena. Government scientists have spent billions of dollars studying the attributes of a so-called mountain in the Nevada desert proposed to be the repository for high-level nuclear waste. Scientists hired by the state of Nevada examining the same data as the National Laboratory scientists get totally divergent and negative opinions. Who is right? What is the public to believe? Is the site suitable or not? Will the public be poisoned if waste is buried at Yucca Mountain, or are safeguards in place to protect the public? On the Nevada side, with a $4 million-per-year budget, the strategy is to stop the project by using their scientists’ opinions. The government uses its scientists that know they must keep studying year after year to keep funding coming. Neutral groups like the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board seem to come down on the side of the federal government scientists. But why would the public give more credence to their opinions than of those from Nevada – they all have some bias, don’t they?The Crichton novel focuses on global warming. It is one of the prime examples of politicized science. We wish it wasn’t so, but this is the state of the world we live in. Think of all the people that would be out of work if global warming were not a real and present danger to our society? Remember, it is a multibillion dollar business. Is it really something we should change our lives over, as would be the case if we believe Boston will be under water in a few short decades?Glenn Vawter is a Glenwood Springs resident.


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