Why science must get political

Writer’s Note: This Saturday, millions of people are planning to take to the streets for the March for Science. In this column, I explain why such directed action is necessary for the public good.

One of the more baffling things to come out of the 1990s was a Congressional appropriation that banned the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from funding research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” This effectively ended all federally funded studies on gun violence, to the point where even private nonprofits rarely carry out such studies. Even an executive order from President Obama could not stimulate this research; Congress refused to appropriate money for it.

Refusing to collect and analyze data on a problem faced by one’s company would get even the most charismatic of CEOs fired. This is an obvious problem: as Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross noted in his confirmation hearing, anything that you cannot measure, you cannot manage. It is therefore both absurd and troubling that for almost 20 years, Congress has refused to even measure the problem of gun violence, indicating that it has no intention of managing it. As a result, attempts at enacting reasonable gun control — i.e., in a manner which reduces gun violence while protecting gun owners’ right to bear arms — have been killed over and over again. Without hard data, it is pretty much impossible to craft a solution that achieves both these goals, and we remain stuck in gridlock while thousands more people die from gun violence.


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