Just over a year ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists formed a new Center for Science and Democracy and last summer I was appointed its inaugural director. It is both an honor and a challenge for me, as the Center has the mission of advancing the role of science in public policy and democratic dialogue.
Today, Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, in his maiden speech to the full Senate, clearly re-affirmed not only the importance of that mission but the feasibility of achieving it. Maiden speeches are a big deal for senators. Usually there is a watching and learning period before he or she feels it’s appropriate to address the world’s “greatest deliberative body.” Sen. Heinrich’s decision to emphasize science in such a personally significant speech is a welcome sign. Too often, elected officials ignore or dismiss science for political reasons. We know that’s a mistake. Instead, Sen. Heinrich made the fundamental connection between science, democracy and our prosperity crystal clear.
Here are some of the Senator’s words that compellingly state the case:
“…technology, and more importantly the scientific method, are how we can best meet many of our 21st century challenges….In fact, the very character of our nation has been shaped by hard work and innovation. That is America’s story.
“And as our country faces the challenges of bringing our economy back from a devastating recession, and reversing the effects of climate change, we must embrace the challenge and lead the world in innovation and clean energy, using science as our guide to making solid policy decisions…Yet during my time in Washington, too often I’ve seen scientific integrity undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance ideological or purely political agendas. I have watched as too many of us in elected office, moved from being entitled to our own opinions—something which our democracy demands and relies upon—to embracing the belief that we are somehow entitled to our own facts. Mr. President, none of us are entitled to our own facts….
“Whether for our national security, our energy independence, or our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy, our efforts and our solutions should be rooted in fact and driven by the best available science. “
I applaud Senator Heinrich for committing himself in this work on behalf of his state and this country to starting with the facts and emphasizing that science is the starting point for reaching good policy solutions. Of course many other factors come into play as citizens and our elected officials form their views about critical issues facing each of us, our families, communities and the country. But starting with a common understanding of the scientific evidence is the first step in moving away from hyper-partisan rancor to reasonable, democratic dialogue and better decisions.
We can’t afford to lose sight of the evidence. We can’t afford to allow information to be hidden or obfuscated by politics or special interests.
Senator Heinrich, thank you. I am sure you will continue as you began—as a champion for science and public policy based on the facts. Just as our founding fathers intended.