Science is objective—but are all scientists objective?

Science might be objective—but that doesn’t mean all scientists are.

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There is science—and then there is scientific vested interests.

With a denier of science in The White House—whether it has to do with the climate crisis or Covid-19 and so on—there is a major push, including by Democratic officials, for making science the basis for governmental decision-making.

That’s completely understandable.

But what about the push by some scientists to politically further areas of science and technology which they favor? Science might be objective—but that doesn’t mean all scientists are.

Take Congressman Bill Foster. 

An atomic physicist from Illinois, for 23 years he worked at Fermilab in Illinois, established in the 1960s and run by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. With the AEC disbanded in the 1970s, it fell under the U.S. Department of Energy, which still runs it.

Foster, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 on the Democratic line is—no surprise—a booster of atomic energy. “As a scientist, Bill Foster believes that nuclear power can be made safe, and has been made safe in the United States,” it is declared on his billfoster.com website. “Waste disposal remains a technically possible but politically unsolved problem.”

“What is missing in the nuclear debate,” it says, “is an accurate understanding of the costs of nuclear compared to other low-carbon sources, “In the short-term it appears that low natural gas prices from hydro-fracturing technology [fracking] may make the capital investment in new nuclear plants hard to justify—even at sites where the licensing and environmental permitting is already in place. In the longer term, we should press ahead with advanced technologies such as inherently safe High-Temperature Gas [atomic] Reactors with high Carnot efficiency and noncorrosive coolants, small modular reactor designs, inertial and magnetically confined fusion energy, and accelerator-driven Thorium cycle energy production.”

Moreover, it goes on, “Climate change is a worldwide crisis that demands a worldwide solution. That is why Bill Foster, as Congress’s only Ph.D. Physicist [the P in physicist is capitalized on his website], has been a leader in securing federally funded research and development into clean, safe, and low cost energy.”

The claim that nuclear power is among “low-carbon sources” is also the current major nuclear industry PR claim. In fact, the “nuclear fuel cycle”—especially mining, milling, “enrichment” to produce nuclear plant fuel—is carbon-intensive. And nuclear plants themselves emit carbon—radioactive Carbon-14.

Foster in a Democratic primary this year was challenged by Rachel Ventura, a member of the Will County Board in Illinois, who describes herself as a “progressive.” She is also an environmentalist who earlier worked as a naturalist for Georgia State Parks. 

“Will County is effectively the ‘dumping grounds’ for Chicago’s dirty energy industry and garbage,” she declared in campaign literature. “Will County is home to two coal plants, two refineries and one nuclear power plant,” the twin-reactor Braidwood nuclear power plant.

She told patch.com/Illinois that the “Green New Deal is a centerpiece of my campaign” for both environmental and economic reasons. “I believe we can replace warehouse jobs with jobs building windmills and installing solar panels. I believe that we can replace the sweatshops in Aurora [a city, the second in population in Illinois after Chicago and in the Congressional district]…with better-paying jobs building energy efficient window and doors.”

She supports the Future Energy Jobs Act, pending before the Illinois General Assembly, which emphasizes solar and wind power and energy efficiency and commits the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Ventura noted that Foster “argues that his Ph.D. somehow makes him a better lawmaker, yet he has become part of the broken pay-to-play system that only rewards those who can afford to contribute to political campaigns.” Foster “has taken millions of dollars from big banks, hedge fund managers, insurance companies, big Pharma and even money from fossil fuel companies.”

She wants to see nuclear power replaced by energy from solar, wind and hydropower. 

Despite a modest budget—$80,000—she received 41.3 percent of the primary vote, 32,411 votes—to 58.7 percent, 46,116 votes, for Foster.

As to the Republican whom Foster will face on Election Day, it is Rick Laib, a Trumpster and sergeant in the Will County Sheriff’s Office, who stresses his opposition to abortion and the right for people to carry guns.

Laib told Chicago.suntimes.com: “We must end abortion and protect human life,” and also, “Allow those who wish to carry firearms to do so. Encourage concealed carry…Work to expose the illogical and unsafe thinking behind gun-free zones.” Further, he said, “Social Security was designed to be an anti-poverty assistance for individuals later in life; we must return to its economical roots.” And as for climate change: “There is an absence of consensus among industry experts as to the threat of climate change….What is incumbent on the federal government, then, is to reduce taxes so that private industry will be free to develop helpful practices.”

In his farewell address as president in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower warned of the rise of a “military-industrial complex” in the U.S. In fact, according to Douglas Brinkley, formerly director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, the original draft of the speech warned not only of a “military-industrial complex” but of a “military-industrial-scientific complex.” Because of the “urging” of Eisenhower’s science advisor, James Killian, said Brinkley, the word “scientific” was eliminated. (Brinkley is now Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and professor of history at Rice University.)

Remaining in Eisenhower’s address were other words on the issue. Eisenhower said, “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposing danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.”

Eisenhower also said: “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists and laboratories.” 

The chain of U.S. national laboratories which grew out of the crash program of World War II to build atomic bombs, the Manhattan Project, was—and is—the base for much of the scientific establishment about which Eisenhower was concerned. 

David E. Lilienthal, first chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, used similar words to those of Eisenhower in his 1963 book Change, Hope, and the Bomb. He wrote how now “scientists are ranked in platoons” and “the independent and humble search for new truths about nature has become confused with the bureaucratic impulse to justify expenses and see that next year’s budget is bigger than last’s.” He spoke about the “elaborate and even luxurious [national] laboratories that have grown up at Oak Ridge, Argonne, Brookhaven.” 

In that line he was referring to Brookhaven National Laboratory set up by AEC on a former Army base in Upton on Long Island, New York, where I live, to do atomic research and develop civilian uses of nuclear technology. After the elimination of the AEC, its operation was taken over by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

In 1999, three-term U.S. Representative Michael Forbes, concerned about leaks of tritium from nuclear reactors at BNL, spoke out in connection to the radioactive pollution caused by the facility, located in his district. Its two reactors were leaking tritium directly into the underground water table below on which Long Island depends as its sole source of potable water.

As a result of Forbes’ criticism of the federal laboratory, he was opposed in a primary for the Democratic nomination by Regina Seltzer whose husband had been a BNL scientist. BNL personnel manned phone banks to campaign for Seltzer. She won the Democratic nomination over Forbes by 45 votes, but lost to the Republican candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, Forbes, a highly capable representative was driven out of Congress.

One need not be a scientist at a federal facility involved in atomic science to develop an affinity for nuclear technology. Involvement in the U.S. nuclear Navy can also be a springboard. 

Take Congresswoman Elaine Luria. 

Her online biography notes “Rep. Luria was one of the first women in the Navy’s nuclear power program.” She “served two decades in the Navy, retiring at the rank of Commander. Rep. Luria served at sea on six ships as a nuclear-trained Surface Warfare Officer, deployed to the Middle East and Western Pacific.”

In the online biography, Luria, of Virginia, states: “As a nuclear engineer in the Navy, I saw firsthand that nuclear power, when deployed safely and responsibly, can play a key role in our future as a zero-carbon energy source. That is why I introduced the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which will encourage innovation in the design and deployment of advanced nuclear reactor technologies.”

Her Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, introduced in 2019, declares its purpose is to “direct the Secretary of Energy to establish advanced nuclear goals, provide for a versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source, make available high-assay, low-enriched uranium for research, development, and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactor concepts, and for other purposes.”

Luria is a Democrat and will face Republican Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL endorsed by Trump who had lost to her two years ago. “One of his reasons for running again is his opposition to Luria’s decision to vote for the impeachment of the president,” reported Virginia’s 13newsnow This past December “Congress voted to approve appropriations for fiscal year 2020 that includes $1.5 billion for nuclear energy programs, a 12.5 increase from the previous year,” the leading PR entity for the nuclear industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute, trumpeted. It quoted its president and CEO Maria Korsnick saying: “Today’s historic 2020 funding of $1.5 billion for nuclear energy programs reaffirms that nuclear energy is an essential driver in lowering carbon emissions. With Congress’ action, our government is signaling that nuclear energy is a vital part of our country’s commitment to a reliable and resilient energy system.”

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