Last Saturday morning Chris Hayes was wondering on his MSNBC talk show why climate change had never showed up as a presidential campaign issue. A guest, WBAI Radio’s Esther Armah, shared his regret. “One of the big challenges,” she said, “is the degree to which the science has become so politicized that evidence matters less than which party politician is articulating what may happen.”
I played this back and wrote it down because I thought it might help me work through something I’m trying to say here about science. I think scientists, by and large, and despite the ones who are certifiably mad, are smarter than the rest of us and think things through more clearly. Yet what respect do they get? The larger question for Hayes to raise is this: how can America advance as a nation when science is so widely mocked, misunderstood, and subordinated to the interests of politics, superstition, and religion?
I catch Hayes’s morning show when I can, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen him except on television. For a few years after college he lived in Chicago—and wrote for the Reader— and from time to time he was a visitor to our weekend house in southwestern Michigan. This is a house that plays an important role in the story I’m about to tell. It’s a white frame house on a bluff looking down on Lake Michigan, and about 40 years ago three friends and I bought it for a song because the lake was rising and houses on the water’s edge a few miles away were falling in—and also because the owners of the house, having rented rooms to weekenders, made the mistake of listing it as a hotel. Over the years we’ve painted over the numbers on the bedroom doors, gingered the place up quite a bit, added a couple of rooms, and lived an enormous amount of our lives there.