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What's killing America's faith in science? Obama points to the Internet

PITTSBURGH — President Barack Obama, asked about America’s fading faith in science during a conference here celebrating the field, pointed a finger at the feedback loop of skepticism and pessimism more commonly referred to as the Internet.

“One of the ironies, I think, of the Internet has been the degree with which it’s bringing us unprecedented knowledge, but everything on the Internet looks like it might be true,” Obama said to a crowd at Carnegie Mellon University on Thursday. 

“This political season we’ve seen that you just say something … And so everything suddenly becomes contested and I do not think that is good for Democracy, and it’s certainly not good for science or progress or government or fixing systems,” he added to applause.   

He continued: “We’ve got to be able to agree on certain things. If you want to argue with me on how to deal with climate change, that’s a legitimate argument. … But what you can’t do is argue with me that [it’s not happening]. Over the last 10, 15 years, each year is the hottest year ever, or the glaciers are melting and Greenland is melting. You can’t argue with me about that because I can see it and we’re recording it.” 

“The way I’d like to see us operate,” he added, “and we’re not there at the moment, is, yes, significant and contentious debate, but where we are still operating on the same basic platform, basic rules about how we determine what’s true and what’s not.”

Obama went on to slam those skeptics of climate change and climate change science that exist in Congress.   

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“And that’s why I get so riled-up when I hear people willfully ignoring the facts, or sticking their heads in the sand about basic scientific consensus. … It’s not just that they’re saying climate change is a hoax, or that they’re taking snowballs to the Senate floor to prove the planet isn’t getting warmer. It’s that they do everything to cut funding for research and development. … We don’t listen to science just when it fits our ideology, or when it fits the result we want. That’s the path to ruin. Sixty years ago, when Russia beat us into space, we didn’t deny that Sputnik was up there.” 

Asked how he’d restore America’s faith in science, or at least Washington D.C.’s faith in scientific consensus, Obama quipped: “If I had the perfect answer to that then I’d run for president.” 

Obama was in Pittsburgh for the White House-organized Frontiers Conference, a celebration of advancements in science and technology hosted by CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. 

He spoke briefly, and then participated in a panel with luminaries in both the fields of medicine and science. 

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