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PZ Myers

"Imagine that a scientist and a libertarian go out for a drive one day…"


From the day Bush took office, it’s been his policy to disregard the advice and findings of environmental scientists, often espousing bad data put out by corporate sponsored “Astroturf” organizations in order to muddy scientific issues in the press.

PZ Myers
Photo: courtesy PZ Myers.

But Bush couldn’t do this without support from a hard core of free-market libertarians who resent any attempt by the government to regulate their ability to make profit. It’s a peculiar pathology that thinks environmentalism is an evil plot, that planning is socialism, and that Jesus was a good capitalist. It is particularly irksome to deal with people who are so far gone that they deny science warning them of environmental dangers and impending problems.

How irksome? Imagine that a scientist and a libertarian go out for a drive one day…

Libertarian: Isn’t this wonderful? I have a desire to drive, and sufficient surplus income to purchase a vehicle, and the market and technology provide me with one.
Scientist: Uh, yeah, OK… but you know, the way you’re driving is neither safe nor economical. Could you maybe slow down a little?
L: I can afford the gas, I have insurance, and my speedometer goes all the way up to 140. I haven’t exceeded the limit yet.
S: What you can do and what is safe and reasonable to do are two different things. If you want to experience natural selection first-hand, that’s OK with me, except that we’re both in the same car.
By the way, that’s a lake a couple of miles ahead, and you’re headed straight for it.
L: Lake? We haven’t seen any lakes so far. We don’t have to worry about lakes. History is our guide, and it clearly says, “no lakes.”
S: There’s a lake right there in front of us. You can see it as well as I can. It’s marked right here on our map. I suggest you turn left just a little bit and steer clear of it.
L: Oh, you doomsayers! We hit a mud puddle a few miles back, and see? No problems.
S: I’m only predicting doom if you keep driving as foolishly as you have so far. We should take an alternate route now, so that we don’t have to swerve too sharply at the last minute.
L: There is no lake. I like driving fast and straight. The last thing I want to do is turn left.
S: What do you mean, “there is no lake?” It’s right there! And we’re getting closer by the minute!
L: We need more input. Let’s ask my friend from the Alliance for a Common-Sense Automotive Trajectory.
(He reaches down beneath the seat. His hand re-emerges with a sock over it.)
SOCK [in a squeaky voice]: No lake!
L: Since Mr. Socky has taken economic considerations into account and you have not, I can judge which is the better and more informed. Sound science says there is no lake. Or if there is, we can accept the compromise solution that it will disappear before we reach it.
S: We’re headed for that lake at 80 miles per hour. Slow down and turn left!
L: I am confident that our economy will come up with a solution before we hit any hypothetical lake. Right, Mr Socky?
SOCK: ‘salright!
S: I have been telling you what the solution is for the last three miles. Slow down. Turn. Now! How is science going to save you if you insist on ignoring it?
L: Aha! Look! There’s a pier extending out into the lake! I told you that technology would be our salvation. You scientists always underestimate the power of the free market.
S: That’s a rickety 40-foot wooden dock. You can’t drive at 90 miles per hour onto a short pier! BRAKE!
L: You are getting emotional. Market forces and the science and engineering sector will respond to our needs by assembling a floating bridge before we hit the end. Or perhaps they will redesign our car to fly. Or dispatch a ferry or submarine to our location. We cannot predict the specific solution, but we can trust that one will emerge. I’ve always wanted a flying car.
(The car’s tires begin a rapid thumpety-thump as they go over the planks.)
L: I love you, Mr. Socky.
SOCK: Ditto!

PZ Myers is an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris. His Web site – a wonderful source of writing on biology, the environment, and politics – lives at


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