The Republic of Science

The great Alvin Weinberg made the point that what he called the “Republic of Science” “can be destroyed more surely by withdrawal of public support for science than by intrusion of the public into its workings.” This is true, but for the public to have a constructive role in the debate it needs to be well informed about the issues at hand. This will reduce the chances of the debates being hijacked by the mis-informed. A good example of this is the role of Dr. Helen Caldicott in the nuclear power debate.She claims that “Fukushima is bigger and much worse than Chernobyl” (, when there is no objective data to support this. In fact all testing by Australian agencies has failed to show any significant food, water or air contamination linked to Fukushima (same article). Yet she is having a continuing impact on the public’s assessment of the risks of nuclear power, which in turn has an impact the the policies of U.S. government with respect to development of new nuclear technologies. There are certainly risks associated with nuclear energy, but there are risks associates with any technology. How will the proliferation of wind mills affect the climate as they drain energy from the atmosphere and reduce air circulation. The continued addition of CO2 to the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels, and the coincident damage to the environment from their extraction and transportation are all valid questions. All members of the public need to take responsibility for educating themselves on these issues so that we can avoid making bad decisions, since, ultimately, nothing can move forward without public support, and this includes all of the aspects of the water/energy nexus.

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