Monday, January 26, 2015

Employing Science For Trivial Matters and Rejecting Science When It Matters

Employing Science For Trivial Matters and Rejecting Science When It Matters

Last week eleven under-inflated footballs were the lead item on the evening news, the home pages of websites, and the front pages of newspapers.  While I’d expect the sports outlets to pursue this story, I didn’t expect it to dominate the news media.  For example, Brian Williams of NBC consulted experts on the question of the New England Patriots’ use of under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game.  Is this really America’s biggest problem? 

Meanwhile the United States Senate voted three times to reject the connection between global warming and human activity.   The story wasn’t carried by most news organizations and was buried in a small item on page 15 of The New York Times.[1]   To be clear, a majority of our representatives in the U.S. Senate are unwilling to admit that we are contributing to rising average temperatures.  They weren’t debating potential solutions (carbon tax, alternative energy, etc.) on which reasonable minds can differ.  Instead, the Senate was rejecting a well-established scientific conclusion.  As sea levels creep upward, storms intensify, and protracted droughts persist, we have become dependent on policymakers who reject the basic principle that is required in order to begin to address the problem. 

However, the Senators did have time to discuss underinflated footballs:  Here’s Senator Reid, the minority leader: 

I can't believe the National Football League, with the billions of dollars they make, couldn't at least determine how much air should be in a football. I don't see why it should be left up to the teams.[2]

In trying to remain bipartisan on the subject of deflated footballs, here’s Senator Dean Heller (R-Nevada) on the same topic: 

When individuals break professional rules to gain unfair competitive advantages, everyone associated with the game is impacted.  This type of behavior should never be tolerated.[3]

To some extent, our news media and politicians are merely reflecting what we are interested in.  Our interest in science is keen when we’re talking about the aerodynamics and tactile characteristics of a football.  However, when it’s time to apply science to a matter of critical importance, we’d rather not have the discussion.


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