Web edition: May 28, 2008
Although “my undergraduate degree happens to be in engineering,” noted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this morning, “I was the kind of student who normally made the top half of the class possible.”
With that self-deprecating quip (and more to follow), he had the roughly 125 scientists attending the first World Science Summit laughing and paying rapt attention. And it was a sympathetic audience for what would be his take-home message: that although scientific advances are narrowing the gap between what we know and don’t know, their impacts are “dwarfed” by the “tragic lag between what we know and what we do.”
He pointed, for instance, to the fact that fully a half-century ago, scientists were already linking smoking with cancer. By the 1970s, science had also begun predicting that increased carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel burning would warm the climate “with the potentially catastrophic consequences that are playing out now, all over the world.” Yet society fought anti-smoking campaigns as vehemently as the Bush administration has fought regulations to slow climate change.
And the reason? “Far too often,” the mayor contends, “it's because of what I call ‘political science’ - the willingness [of governments] to disregard or suppress scientific findings when they don't conform to a pre-determined political agenda.”
Them's fightin’ words, mayor.
And he raised his political fists with more strong rhetoric
challenging the Bush policy of mandating huge and increasing development of
fuel ethanol from corn. “Our government's continued subsidies for the
production of corn ethanol,” he said, amount to “moral bankruptcy.” His
reasoning: In a search for a simple answer to the oil-imports problem, he
pushed a policy that wasn’t based on science – but was popular with
The resulting higher corn prices have helped propel food
shortages and riots from the
"When such political science triumphs, both politics and science suffer, and so does our entire economy,” he contends. But politics and science don't have to be antagonists, he argues, if governments “embrace what science tells us regardless of the consequences” and ignore misguided pleadings of special interests.
He talked about how his administration looked at the smoking
issue in 2002 and determined that some 10,000
Today, smoking by New Yorkers is down 20 percent, he says, and dropped even more among teens.
In another campaign – this time to combat global warming –
Bloomberg had city agencies measure
That’s putting science into politics, he says.
He’s also instructed city cabbies to convert to hybrid
vehicles or similarly high-fuel-economy cars within four years. That’s a big
I took one of those taxis today on the way back to my hotel
from the summit. Traffic was heavy so our progress was glacial. When I noticed
the hacker was checking a Turkish-language newspaper, we struck up a long
conversation – first on our favorite spots in
Looks like Bloomberg won’t have much trouble with his hybrid rebellion. The oil markets are making his case for him.