Skip to main content



Submitted by jdp on Fri, 03/31/2017 - 07:30 am

We are currently mired, at least here in the US, in a political and cultural milieu where truth, facts, and logic are not only ignored by many citizens and alleged leaders, but are actively resisted. (2)   This drives scientists especially crazy, as we are trained and wired to argue and act based on hard evidence and logic. Our efforts in this regard are wildly imperfect, but it is a universally agree upon ideal, and in our world, while facts can be modified and tested, they cannot be ignored or denied.

Alfonso Bedoya in the famous "no stinkin' badges" scene from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre.


For years there has been a great deal of (justified) hand-wringing over how scientists can and should communicate with the general public--how to translate complex and specialized concepts into understandable terms, without oversimplifying or trivializing them. These concerns have accelerated lately with respect to the deliberate obfuscation and politicization of issues such as climate change, sea-level rise, and environmental protection.

Efforts to help scientists better connect with the general public have mainly focussed on how to more effectively communicate facts and scientific reasoning. But what do we do when so many powerful interests, and so much of the general population, either does not care about or is actively opposed to objective truth, logic, and reason?

I don't know, but at least people are starting to think about the problem.

The American Geophysical Union recently posted "Responding to Climate Change Deniers With Simple Facts and Logic," to assist scientists and other truth-oriented folks in communicating key ideas (climate is changing, human activity does play a role, it is likely to be bad for humans, we can still do something about it, and it is economically advantageous to do so).  While this is still in the communicating-facts-and-logic vein, it is a step in the right direction, in that it goes straight to the bottom-line issues, and that it attempts to frame the issue in terms of questions and answers rather than received wisdom.

In these times we can use all the help we can get.

Singer-songwriter Hayes Carll. In his song "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart," he asks "Doesn't anybody care about truth anymore? Maybe that's what songs are for."


(1) Paraphrased from a famous line (with "badges" rather than "facts") from the 1927 book and 1948 movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

(2) While this trend accelerated during the George W. Bush administration and has reached its zenith (this has to be its zenith, right? It can't get any worse, right?) in the Trump era, I trace this back to President Ronald Reagan, who firmly grasped and exploited the idea that perception matters more (in politics) than reality.