Accuracy in Media

When most Americans think of Pi Day – March 14 (3/14 is the date; 22/7ths = 3.14 for fellow math-challenged types) – they think of a celebration of mathematics, deals on pizza and what kinds of pie they prefer.

At Slate, it was another excuse to bash President Trump.

Matt Rozsa’s story: “Scientists in Congress use Pi Day to plea for a return to rational thought” – subhead: “’We’re seeing people argue about what science is and what facts are … that whole narrative is asinine’” – begins with a scene from a recent House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing.

Mostly these hearings are “yawn-inducing,” Rozsa wrote. But last week, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), “made sure that this particular hearing wasn’t boring.”

Cunningham was questioning an official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about its decision to allow air gun testing near marine animals. He “could have simply mentioned that he had been an ocean engineer and was an expert on this subject … but he took things one step further. … He pulled out an air horn and blasted it.”

Cunningham then pointed out to the NOAA official that North Atlantic white whales find it difficult to hunt for food and communicate with noise pollution nearby. He then asked the NOAA official if he knew how much louder the seismic air gun blasts are than the air horn he had blasted.

“The man entrusted with shaping and implementing science policy for President Donald Trump admitted that he did not know,” Rozsa wrote of the low-level bureaucrat. “The answer: It is 16,000 times louder.”

Rozsa tells us this story because “it goes a long way toward explaining why the Trump administration’s war on science is so dangerous.” Technology shapes how we eat, where we live, whether our climate is stable, whether we ingest poisons and whether the “wilderness we grew up with will last for future generations. If it weren’t for the digital revolution, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now, and the man who was elected president in bursts of pique 140 characters long wouldn’t be in office.”

What does any of this have to do with pi? “It should stand to reason that the people who make policy decisions that involve the sciences should have a scientific background,” Rozsa wrote. “And yet as we commemorate Pi Day, a symbolic holiday commemorating the most well-known transcendental number, the reality is that many politicians – including the president – have an actively anti-scientific agenda.”

Oh, and Cunningham – the congressman who brought an air horn to blast at a subcommittee hearing to demonstrate his scientific bona fides – was elected, Rozsa wrote, “with the backing of 314 Action, a nonprofit political action committee dedicated to electing scientists into public office.”

Rozsa had the good fortune to be writing this story on the day Trump released his budget for next year. Thus, the critics he lined up could opine on the budget as well.

This is generally a week “’where we see students and scientists around the country celebrating science and the accomplishments of science,’” Rozsa quoted Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2014 and is involved with the 314 Action, as saying, even though the holiday commemorates math, not science.

“’Then you contrast that with the budget that the Trump administration put out, which basically eviscerates the EPA. It cut funding for the [National Institutes of Health]. It doesn’t even mention climate change. It really is a stark contrast to what we see as the priorities of the candidates we helped elect … that not only want to put science first but are basing their approaches to policy-making on facts and evidence rather than some partisan ideology.”

“The point here is that, as we commemorate a day dedicated to quantitative wisdom, we should recognize that those who have expertise in science have an invaluable contribution to make to our political life. When policy intersects with science, scientists must be consulted to offer their views, and the scientific consensus needs to be honored.”

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