why you can only fight reality for so long
Scientists and engineers are buckling in for a really tough four years. We’re looking at dealing with a small clutch of angry denialists brought to power by a system that tips the scales away from the centers of commerce, and all the budget cuts and mixed up educational priorities this will bring. While they live in the past and try to turn back the clock, we’re trying to build a future. Ultimately, the side with the facts and science backing it will win simply because, to borrow a quote, reality has a way of asserting itself. It’s the same thing in science and engineering. A wrong, or fraudulent result is going to be debunked one way or another as subsequent data fails to fall in line with the predicted results, and a machine that defies the basic laws of physics or logic is never going to work. It’s easy to see this in action with a homemade perpetual motion machine, or when you try to beat gravity, or use homeopathic remedies to treat cancer. Reality swiftly corrects all your attempts to defy it. For more complex scenarios, see pretty much the entire Mythbusters series which is the popular science standard for seeing even a slight misconception about physics and chemistry fail to work.
But when it comes to something that only manifests over long periods of time, denialists have a cushion to keep shouting out the facts. Smokers who think that the CDC was full of crap when it linked cigarettes to cancer and emphysema aren’t going to suffer for decades, and can ignore being winded and coughing up terrible things in the mornings. Global warming denialists who won’t see the full impact of the resulting climate change until 2100 or so, can keep coming up with new conspiracies while cherry-picking study after study to keep up their facade. And while someone who believes that a regime of deregulation and tax cuts instead of smart regulation and focus on education and international trade is the way to prosperity can certainly try to explain away why the 472 deep blue counties in the U.S. represent close to two thirds of the nation’s economic output, but will ultimately face their fiscal comeuppance when they miss projections and end up with shortfalls in their school budgets, or teetering on the brink of a recession.
You see, we can stall on updating our education or dealing with the rampant automation of jobs that once used to require people, while we pretend that what we really need is to slash all taxes and regulations to beat developing nations on cost, while said nations are also busily automating away. We can ignore the research that tells us more education, easy access to healthcare and early childcare, and global commerce where we can sell the fruits of our R&D is the answer, calling it “politicized” and “biased” for years with little in the way of definitive blowback. But the punishment from this denialism is cumulative and it grows exponentially with time. When it does come, it will affect tens of millions who will see their lives destroyed, with the future of their children in serious doubt. It will come in the form of rampant deaths from curable diseases, soaring unemployment outside of megacities where a flood of economic refugees will send the cost of living through the roof, and outbreaks of new diseases after natural disasters that climate change will be making more frequent and powerful.
Yes, reality will ultimately assert itself. It’s just a matter of time until it does, but that period may take years and go through stretches that look remotely optimistic, and that lag between action and consequence will be used by the denialists responsible to stall, claim they have solutions, and line up a new batch of scapegoats while they try to cling to power. Those of us who know the consequences of neglecting STEM education, and embracing scientific denialism are currently being told to shut up and do science and coding, or to go build something without bothering the perpetually pissed-off 55 to 70 year olds trying to drag the nation back into the Normal Rockwell painting they think it was. Unfortunately, we can’t. Expecting us to shut up and play while trying to break our guitars, unplug and throw out our amps claiming they can’t afford the electric bill, and censoring our music is utterly asinine. We’ll keep doing research, we’ll keep warning you of your follies, and we’ll keep pointing out when you try to feign ignorance of the facts. It’s basically in our job description. And if you still choose to obstinately ignore what the experts will tell you, the facts will come back to bite you in the ass.