By Lawrence M. Krauss
Last week, the Space, Science, and Technology subcommittee of the House of Representatives tweeted a misleading story from Breitbart News: “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists.” (There is always some drop in temperature when El Niño transitions into La Niña—but there has been no anomalous plunge.) Under normal circumstances, this tweet wouldn’t be so surprising: Lamar Smith, the chair of the committee since 2013, is a well-known climate-change denier. But these are not normal times. The tweet is best interpreted as something new: a warning shot. It’s a sign of things to come—a declaration of the Trump Administration’s intent to sideline science.
In a 1946 essay, George Orwell wrote that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” It’s not just that we’re easily misled. It’s that, by “impudently twisting the facts,” we can convince ourselves of “things which we know to be untrue.” A whole society, he wrote, can deceive itself “for an indefinite time,” and the only check on that mass delusion is that “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality.” Science is one source of that solid reality. The Trump Administration seems determined to keep it at bay, and the consequences for society and the environment will be profound.
The first sign of Trump’s intention to spread lies about empirical reality, “1984”-style, was, of course, the appointment of Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, as Trump’s “senior counselor and strategist.” This year, Breitbart hosted stories with titles such as “1001 Reasons Why Global Warming Is So Totally Over in 2016,” despite the fact that 2016 is now overwhelmingly on track to be the hottest year on record, beating 2015, which beat 2014, which beat 2013. Such stories do more than spread disinformation. Their purpose is the creation of an alternative reality—one in which scientific evidence is a sham—so that hyperbole and fearmongering can divide and conquer the public.
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