The Science Pope is a symbol of a fact-based worldview. I’m not the Science Pope, it’s not a title I bestow upon myself or anyone else. Yet there is a kind of authority imbued in the symbol: the authority of fact over belief.
One of the main reasons that climate change remains in doubt is that people don’t have all the facts. It’s not surprising. While its roots are in science, climate change can be fully understood only by incorporating its corresponding effects on economics, culture and politics. People must gather information from all over…a government report here, a news program there, and this ad hoc collection is fertile ground for misinformation. Thus, we are all arguing a very complex problem from many different starting points.
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ―Mark Twain
Adding to the confusion, vested interests often purposely manipulate facts to match their favored outcome. In the case of climate change, surrogates for Big Oil cherry pick data that appears to show flaws in climate change science. This practice is vile, dishonest, and contrary to the very foundations of science. We all have differences of opinion, but when we suffer from differences of fact, it is detrimental to the public good.
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” ―Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson knew that education was the foundation of a functional democracy. Where an informed populace is strong, an ignorant populace is weak and divided. And America has never been more divided. Entities unbound by scientific facts are fashioning weapons of disinformation to fit any situation, making villains out of anyone they disagree with. This puts Americans in to an us vs. them mentality, where both sides (mistakenly of course) think that they have the facts on their side.
To address these problems, the Science Pope also symbolizes the need to cultivate a centralized, peer-reviewed source of objective scientific facts. If that sounds far-fetched, consider for a moment how far the internet has already advanced this idea through websites like Wikipedia, Factcheck.org, and AskScience/ on Reddit. Information on these pages is trustworthy because they utilize the power of peer networks: information becomes more reliable as it is iterated upon, as a stone is polished in a tumbler. People want trusted sources of information to sort fact from fiction, so they might base their decisions on the realities of the world at large (and yes, win the occasional bar bet).
A fact-based worldview doesn’t begin and end with knowledge; the ultimate goal is to weave it into the cultural narrative by promoting science to the general public. Correspondingly, this site is a cheerleader for education and critical thinking, tries to decipher complex issues for laypeople, and works to promote science in policy-making and national discourse. From society down to the individual, a fact-based worldview is an excellent tool to have in all parts of life.
This idea is not an attack on religion. Indeed quite to the contrary, the goals of religion and climate change advocates are one and the same: to leave the Earth a better place than we found it. I welcome any and all religious participation in our efforts to mitigate climate change and reduce human consumption. These are clearly issues of social justice and planetary stewardship, things for which religion is a worldwide authority and a potent mobilization tool. Climate change will clearly bring great hardship on the poorest and most vulnerable people of earth. If religions want to apply their creed in the real world, help the poor and inspire a new generation of followers, then I implore them to take action on climate change.
The Science Pope is just a symbol, but it’s one that you can judge the merit of right now. There are people out in the world putting this concept in to practice, tackling big issues and putting science in front of the general public to advance the greater good. If I had to hold up one individual to showcase what this kind of work looks like, it would be Neil deGrasse Tyson. Mr. deGrasse Tyson is is an American astrophysicist whose day jobs include being a director at the Hayden Planetarium, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, and a host for the television show NOVA scienceNOW on PBS. He was twice appointed to scientific commissions by President G.W. Bush, has been awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, and has written several (ten!) well-received books. He’s also a sworn enemy of Pluto.
But if you know Neil from anywhere, it’s probably television or the internet. His appearances on shows like Big Bang Theory, The Daily Show, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire are always highly rated and highly entertaining, and his interviews and open forum lectures frequently go viral. No one has been better about taking science to the people, and the people respond: Neil is approachable and funny, and his love for science is tangible and truly infectious. To the larger point, what he does is important. While he inspires people with the promise and mystery of scientific exploration, he goes further, using science to inform thinking in all aspects of life. He doesn’t shy away from issues of politics, ethics, or spirituality…he runs headlong in to them, eloquently putting each in a context that incorporates scientific truths. If he sees misinformation being spread, he pounces and eviscerates it (I’m looking at you, intelligent design). He shows us that science isn’t some cold game of fact collection, it’s a tool that rational people can use to make better decisions in their everyday lives. He sums his philosophy up succinctly:
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Now this site has no affiliation with Neil, but I find his work invaluable and truly inspiring, and I hope you do too. To me he embodies the spirit of a smarter, more forward-thinking populace.
And now more than ever, the world needs a forward-thinking populace, as climate change is ushering in a period of upheaval. Knowing who to trust on scientific questions is now a matter of life and death. Good policies based on sound science will keep people safe and secure…bad policies based on junk science or wishful thinking will endanger us all. And in today’s digital world, with peer-reviewed scientific studies only ever a click away, there’s no excuse for executing uninformed policy.
So with all of this I ask you to consider the promise of the Science Pope. The promise of a generation raised on a healthy diet of curiosity and scientific understanding. The promise of a civilization that finds consensus in facts about the world’s true nature. The promise of a world where no problem is too big, even if it challenges the very underpinnings of society. This promise is what the Science Pope is all about and why it’s the mascot for this site. It embodies the promise of a world of people, unified by science and hungry for progress, and the big things those people might accomplish.