Trump’s EPA pick at war with science

  • Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday. TNS PHOTO

Bloomberg News
Friday, December 09, 2016

NEW YORK — For many Americans, the phrase “climate change” has become little more than a trigger for expressing political identity. For some, science evidence, and facts are now beside the point.

Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale University, has formally posited what some may already suspect. America is not just a victim of fake news and the pervasive inability to apply skepticism to ferret it out. Kahan reveals it’s also under assault by affirmative choices to dismiss scientific evidence simply because it doesn’t match one’s social or cultural identity. By that logic, President-elect Donald Trump has fired a starter’s pistol with his nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to become administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The weirdest thing about the U.S. climate discussion, Kahan and University of Richmond’s Jonathan Corbin suggest, is that this polarization is a function of rationality — the “perverse effects of actively open-minded thinking.” They’re not talking about the scientific rationality that proceeds from hypothesis, to evidence, to critical reasoning, to conclusion.

Rather, it’s a rationality acknowledging how much easier it is to support people you identify with culturally than it is to say things that may be unpopular but true. Not unlike the key criticism of the 2016 election campaign, it’s no longer about facts — it’s about belief. “‘Beliefs’ about human-caused climate change and a few select other highly divisive empirical issues are ones that people use to express who they are, an end that has little to do with the truth of what people, ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ know,” the authors write.

To recap, Pruitt sued the EPA over Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an ambitious regulatory strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and increase clean energy. Pruitt was profiled in a 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation about his close relationship with one of Oklahoma’s biggest fossil fuel energy companies. Pruitt has repeatedly attempted to dismiss — with no evidence — broadly accepted scientific research about the causes of global warming, causes that have been understood and verified for years. This matches Trump, who has denied climate change exists, with no support for the assertion and in the face of overwhelming factual evidence.

Compare a statement Trump’s EPA nominee and a co-author made in this May article in the conservative publication National Review:

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”

The erroneous statement by Pruitt is diametrically opposite of the most recent global climate scientific assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”