Op-Ed By Arizona Scientists – Science For Doing Good

The intent of science and technology, as we see it, is to improve the quality and security of life – in other words, doing good. It’s time for the science and engineering communities to recommit publicly to this credo. The Pew Charitable Foundation determined 73% of U.S. adults agree that science and technology improve our lives. The public’s trust in scientists and engineers and their work has been hard earned over the centuries. Holding onto that trust requires an active and dynamic effort. 

Understanding laws of Nature requires trial and error. Some folks misunderstand this process –the scientific method- as a vulnerability in the institution of science rather than its cardinal feature. When done with constructive intent, skepticism and questioning are healthy attributes in new knowledge creation. When done with destructive intent, they can lead to rejecting knowledge simply because you don’t yet understand the ‘how’ or ‘why’. This is a dangerous pathway and beneath us as critical-thinkers, problem-solvers and innovators. Nonetheless, some people masquerade as scientific and medical scholars solely to encourage rejection of objective truths. 

Humankind’s understanding of natural phenomena may be fallible, but natural laws are not. They find root in objective truths – whether we find them advantageous or not – and offer an ecosystem designed to thrive. Against these objective truths, we observe too many human-made laws rooted in science illiteracy that aims to establish an ego-system designed to destroy. 

In Arizona, the majority party of the state legislature struck a Faustian bargain to pass a state budget, barring district and charter schools from implementing mask or vaccination mandates. This prohibition is not based in truth but in fallacy. It robs two sharp arrows – face coverings and vaccines – from the public (not private) schools’ quiver. This is especially egregious given young children are currently without the benefit of vaccination. 

As scientists, we fear this over-regulation of public education may have calamitous results.

Admittedly, this policy decision can be looked at from different perspectives. As voters, we question the stated legislative intent of ‘individual rights’ when the law applies only to some students and not others. As taxpayers, we ponder the wisdom of ignoring favorable economic health data associated with the use of two cost and health-effective mitigation strategies. As parents, we chose our public schools because we trust them and wish them empowered to provide a healthy and safe environment for our kids to learn. We want our kids in school but at what cost?

In a moment of resolve to improve the quality and security of life – to do good – the Phoenix Union High School District followed the philosophy and institution of science by reinstituting a mask requirement when indoors. Their statement of July 30 reads, “[r]ecently, we have heard from our staff, students, and families that they want us to realign our mitigation practices with the guidelines and recommendations of national and local health agencies.” We laud the district’s decision to prioritize a difficult and objective truth over convenience.

Trust can be compromised but only if we let it be.

Written by:

Dave Silcox, Ph.D., retired chemistry teacher and principal and former member and past president of the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board.

Libby Hart-Wells, Ph.D., adjunct faculty in chemistry, Glendale Community College and former research assistant at The National Academies.

Leila Duman, Ph.D., chemist and graduate of the Arizona School for the Arts.